Category Archives: History

Where do we go from here?

 My post Oh History! My History! ( )

was about writing and understanding History in general. It also highlighted the problems in interpreting Indian history, the way in which it is taught in schools. The comments that followed discussed the problems involved in teaching Indian History and culture to Indian children in USA .


 The debate is still on. In the mean while a book titled “Invading the Sacred” edited by Ramaswamy, Antonio de Nicolas, a professor, and Aditi Banerjee appeared on the scene. , the book brings together essays by well-known scholars and seeks to facilitate a debate to challenge the systematic misrepresentation of Indian culture and philosophy by certain American academicians. The book is product of an intensive multi-year research project that uncovers shoddy and biased scholarship driven by certain power cartels.. The book narrates the Indian Diaspora’s challenges to such scholarship, and documents how those who dare to speak up have been branded as `dangerous’.

  Further, an article written by Aditi Banerjee one of the authors of the book appeared in the Outlook magazine


 Following the debate thereon I wrote to the Discussion Forum of the book saying that we were having a lively and a very concerned debate in progress about the Indian History in general, and the way in which India and Hindu religion is taught at the schools in USA , in particular. Further I said

 “Our anxiety is that the abuse of India does not merely start with the books you mentioned .They are just symptoms. This issue has a deeper root and a sinister history of its own. It has its roots in the content of Indian History in our school books; patronage of a certain brand of Historians by the Government; the anxiety of “Historians” to please those that matter, neglect of research and higher studies in Indian History in our Universities and Research Organizations and disillusionment of our bright young minds who are scared (with reason) to take up study of History as an academic career.

 The question is, where do we go from here? How do we tackle the menace that confuse and disillusion our younger generation about our History, our Culture and our Religion? The question is not merely about books written by some westerns without an iota of understanding; it concerns the identity of our communities and valuing conservation of our culture

 You have a wider canvass and larger area of work and influence than many of us have. Could you please let us have your views on the issues we are grappling with? Where do we go from here? “

There are other discussions in progress on  similar issues . Please follow those interesting  debates too.

 Invading The Sacred-The Foreword . 

 Invading The Sacred-A Review

 Challenging Western Scholarship on Hinduism

 Invading The Sacred : An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America


Riverine suggests that measures to project our history, our culture and our religion in the right perspective and to present it to our younger ones should start from our homes and our schools. Re asserts the truth that mothers are the protectors and nourishes of our identity and Dharma. She also suggests involvement in this task of women disposed to social service/activities.

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

On that optimistic note please read on.

 Kindly post your comments

Message received from the Editors of Invading the sacred

 From: ITS Team <invadingthesac…>
Date: Jul 12, 2:58 am
Subject: Where do we go from here?
To: discuss-invadingthesacred

Dear Srinivasarao

Thanks for your presence & adding to the discussion. Also, thank you
for keeping the discussion alive on outlets like Sulekha.

 My response to the Editors’ reply

 Dear Sir, Madam

 Thank you for the reply and the appreciation.

 We were aware of the problem and were trying to spread the awareness about that with our very limited resources and a restricted reach. Your book has accomplished the task of awakening, on a larger scale, in a more scholarly, professional manner acceptable to academia and in a   much more effective way. None of us had the capability to do what you have just done. It has made a great difference. We all thank you for the task you just finished.

 The question we were wondering at: “Where do we go from here?” remains largely un answered in all the discussions that followed. Most of the comments posted are the reactions to the contents of book with hardly any thought expressed on what we need to do now or in future. Where do we go from here?

 We have just identified a problem and reacted to it. However, it takes much greater effort and dedication to effectively deal with the issue in a holistic fashion and to find credible answers to questions gnawing at the root of our cultural identity,” What do we tell and how we tell our children, who we are?” .We feel that a long term and a well thought out strategy involving various segments of the academia, the govts and intellectuals is essential. There are no quick fixes here. Have you envisioned a strategy or a road map in that direction? Can you kindly share it with us now or later?

 Thank you again for a difficult just accomplished.

 Looking forward to your response.


 Sreenivasarao s


This was the reply received from the Editors

  TS Team <>   hide details 2:54 am (4 hours ago) reply-to to discuss-invadingthesacred <> dateJul 13, 2007 2:54 AM subject[discuss-invadingthesacred:34] Re: Where do we go from here?

Dear sreenivasarao s
Thanks for your perceptive comments, & your obvious concerns about the
big picture. What you have, in the form of this book, is a tool for
firstly absorbing a deeper understanding of the problem, and then
fashioning an intellectual & intelligent response to it.
At the bare minimum, the book calls for an awakening of the people
concerned to the problem, & and an acknowledgement that it exists.
After that, it is up to the person(s) to think how to go ahead in
contributing to a remedy. It could be as simple as alerting oneself &
friends & family about the issues faced when one’s cultural heritage
is unfairly targeted, or bigger things like getting together to form
organizations that actively participate in academic forums to have the
“insider” voices of the traditions heard.
It all starts with healthy discussions like this one.
Thanks for the comments, & please continue sharing your thoughts. They
are important


There have been discussions in Group. You can read the detailed discussions at(

 The following are excerpts from the comments made by some members of the Group

Krishen Kak <> 

 15 July , 2007


This is being sent at RM’s request.

 It is about a personal experience of “reversing the gaze” that resonates strongly with the theme of the book.  It also resonates with subsequent personal experience in Delhi where, as guest faculty, I teach occasionally at a well-known b-school (and elsewhere).  There are all these bright young MBA aspirants, supposedly of our country’s intellectual “creamy layer”, who uncritically accept “the Western knowledge of India … as God’s own truth”.  But it’s not their fault.  We have a macaulayan educational system firmly in place producing macaulayan parents who go on to produce macaulayan children who go into the macaulayan education system.  Of course, this is a generalization but, I think, a valid one – witness, for one, your book itself!  

 As a small but another characteristic example, some Punjabi families were celebrating “lori” and I asked this teenager (private school, mission college, but of pukka Punjabi parentage – language, food, head-covered women, etc., etc.) what “lori” is about.  She said she didn’t know, and added brightly, “But I can tell you about Christmas”.

 At the b-school and elsewhere, more and more I find that our English-medium educated youngsters are ignorant of even the Mahabharata – but unthinkingly subscribe to a tangle of confused beliefs that all religions are equal and about love, and that “Hinduism” is mythology and not truthful and therefore inferior to the religions that are the Truth and so if I have any Hindu beliefs I should keep these superstitions to myself and not talk about them in “secular” society because that will make me a Hindu fundamentalist and I will be looked down upon by Westerners and the West-educated.         


Krishen Kak

June 25, 2004

This one starts on a personal experience, but I hope it has a larger lesson that is topical.  Not so very long ago, I negotiated a Ph.D. from Princeton University .   Shri Ashok Chowgule has for some time been pressing me to share that experience with the larger world, and “prevailing ideology” in David Brooks, “Lonely Campus Voices”, The New York Times, Sept 27, 2003 that Shri Chowgule circulated, plus certain behaviour, essentially unchanged since it was televised to the world on May 18, 2004, prompts me now to do so.

 I won a Parvin Fellowship for 1983-84 to Princeton University and during that one year fulfilled nearly all the requirements of a major in anthropology (i.e., the honours course requirements for a BA in cultural anthropology).  Sat for the GRE and, armed with my course grades and my GRE, and with strong encouragement from Prof James Fernandez (who later shifted to Chicago ), applied for regular graduate admission.

 Joined as a graduate student in 1985 and had 5 years in which to complete (an MA and) the Ph.D. before being obligated to return to sarkari naukri back home (the average time taken by an indigenous student exceeded 7 years). 

 I must say those 5 years were a most educative experience – the pluses of the American educational system are well-known and I won’t repeat them here.  Mainly, these are the opportunities and facilities the system makes available to any one who wants seriously to study. 

  This is about what I didn’t know then – and I have no reason to believe it has changed in its basics.

  First, my teachers as a Delhi Univ undergraduate in the early 60s were as good or better than the ones I had at Princeton in the 80s.  Whatever the drawbacks of the Indian system, ours has a discipline and a rigour that enables those trained in it to do very well there. 

  Secondly, for all the academic freedom proclaimed, there are high walls you cross at your risk.  The playing field is a large one, but its boundary is then sharply demarcated.

Thirdly, racism is subtle but sharp.  I was encouraged by Prof Fernandez and, after he left, by my advisor Prof Hildred Geertz, to reverse the well-entrenched hierarchy of enquiry (in which Western/White/West-based anthropology studies others, preferably dark-skinned, non-Englishspeaking, Third World natives) and bring to bear my non-western eyes and non-western perspective to any aspect of American culture that interested me.  As I told an indigenous student (of Tamil-Irish parentage!) who asked, “But aren’t you supposed to study someone exotic?”, “What makes you think that to me you Americans aren’t exotic?”  “Oh!”  

 But life in America is expensive, and while my Department had always been understanding and generous, no funding agency was prepared to give me a grant to do my fieldwork on mainstream Americans.  I read some of the feedback.  Essentially, it was a question of authority: who is he to study us?  Politely and carefully-worded, but the subtext was clear – student, Indian, Brown, Third World, inferior, the ruled, the periphery, etc. to study the No.1, White, First World, superior, the rulers, the centre, etc.? Nah!

 This “who is he to study us?” played like a signature tune to the very end.  Up to the qualifiers (the MA), I played by their rules, did their coursework, met all their academic requirements to their pronounced satisfaction.  I was apparently successfully co-opted and could be a fine example of their system (senior administrator from world’s largest democracy, fluent in English, Westernized, much older than the average indigenous student, and dutifully kneeling at their altar to Athena, not mine to Saraswati).    

 Then came the fieldwork, of studying Americans as “them”.   My area of ethnographic enquiry was the Western social paradigm in its American expression, but in its “bhayanaka”, not “adbhuta”, side; and to express it I introduced “rasasvadana” (from Indian aesthetics) as an ethnographic method. 

 Suffice it to say that, as I began to share my experiences and critical understanding in the Department, I was soon disabused of the notion that, as a Brown foreigner, I had interpretative authority.  For example, some interpretation I shared with Prof Laurence Rosen was “wrong”.  So I began to use the words of the indigenes instead of my own; I used American quotations to say to White Americans what obviously they were not prepared to hear – let alone accept – from a Dark Brown Indian who was forgetting his place in their larger scheme of life!

 The procedure required the submission and clearance of the draft dissertation by the main advisor, its approval by a second reader, then it was to be seen by two more readers who’d have it for a fortnight each, and then, all going well, the date for the student’s final public oral exam (FPO) would be notified – and the whole world and their nears and dears could attend!    

  Right on schedule, I handed in my final draft to Prof Geertz.  Her initial response – “marvellous”.  Three days later she said she couldn’t accept it – it wasn’t “science”.  I pointed out I was critiquing “Western science”. She wanted this change and that, and changes that I felt I could make without compromising my integrity and that of my thesis, I made.  At one change, I drew the line.  I said that if I made it, it would no longer be my dissertation; it would become hers. She was asking me to convert from my faith (as an academic credo) to hers, and I wasn’t prepared to convert. She said that then she couldn’t accept my dissertation.  I said, fine, I’d go back without the Ph.D.

  Impasse.  Sensation.  After all, here I was.  A brown sahib there, and not just any chhota-mota brown sahib. I had been a Parvin Fellow at the same university.  I had a certain official status in my own country.  My academic results had been to their entire satisfaction.  How would they explain not awarding me a Ph.D?            

  Friendly American students advised me to write as my guide wanted; when subsequently I published I could rewrite as I wanted.  I was horrified to discover this well-meant advice was a very common one.  The important point was to get the degree, not how you got it?  And I then realized the American doctorate is not awarded, it is negotiated.

  The negotiations began.  No, no, I sat tight – in my dharma, that piece of paper would not go up (or down!) with me when my  time finally came.  As my wife will certify, I was quite prepared to return home without that degree.  I was certainly not going to “sell” myself for White / Western recognition.  What to me was important was what I’d studied and learned and understood, and that they couldn’t take away from me.

 My second reader was Prof Gananath Obeyesekere (of Sri Lankan origin) and to him Prof Geertz referred me and my draft.  Prof O, apart from being a fascinating teacher, is one smart cookie, and he brought to bear his Asian chutzpah in dealing with the American system (and, believe me, first-generation clued-up Asians who smartly want to play the American system to their own advantage – as I did – can certainly do so).  So we negotiated certain portions of my draft without compromising on its integrity and he sent me back to Prof G.  She declined to look at the draft, saying that if O had okayed it, it was okay by her.

 It then went to big-name professors Jorge Klor de Alva and James Boon, with a covering note that I would be happy to explain any point they wished.  Complete silence from them both for their fortnights, and the date of the FPO was announced. 

  Now, I’d sat through the FPOs of a number of my seniors – small friendly affairs, just other students of the Department (and perhaps some friends) and a supportive faculty that’d known the student for six years or more.  Professional, yes, but very friendly, and I’d seen how once they gently led a sweating student out of his sudden and total mental block.  Nothing to worry about, except that in my case I was warned “they” were out to get me!   So, strategy became necessary, and some close, concerned American friends and I went into a huddle.  The student has about half-an-hour to “present” the dissertation and then the questioning starts.  We decided that I would raise no substantive issue in my presentation (let the questioners do that) and I wasn’t, absolutely was not, no matter how much the provocation, to lose my temper!   

 The entire faculty were seated around a long table, I was at one end, and the hall was overflowing with students from my and related departments. Word had certainly got around – martyr to the lions!!  And, oh yes, instead of my usual jeans, I wore a kurta and a churidar pajama. 

 For 25 minutes I spoke, and carefully said nothing at all.  Then, questions from the faculty.  Appropriate ones, including one from Prof Laurence Rosen about the application generally of my anthropological method, except for Profs Klor de Alva and Boon who were clearly seething with anger (Boon was literally red in the face) and who took over and dominated the table.

 Prof K de A: “Who are you to write this about us?  Can this be written about your country too?”

Prof B: “Your behaviour is uncharacteristic of Hindu behavior”

 Across the table it went, around those two statements of theirs I’ve never forgotten.  Cutting, insulting, snubbing.  K de A saying that all that was needed was to replace the title page with one saying ” India “, and what’s the difference.  Boon’s statement suggesting that Hindu (not Indian, mind you, but Hindu) behaviour is characteristically one of humility, of abject and grateful servility (yes, the kind leading “Hindu” members of our country’s Parliament happily displayed in the CPP meeting on May 18 – V’mala 59).

 And not a word from Prof Geertz or anyone else to restrain or divert them (as not a word at that CPP meeting from La Duce Suprema while her Hindus behaved in the way she obviously considers characteristic of us). 

 No, I did not lose my temper.  But Prof G didn’t allow any questioning from the audience; she ended the FPO immediately after the faculty had done with me.  There was a moment’s silence, then the students gave me a standing ovation, and student feedback later was that faculty behaviour had been “obnoxious”. 

 I had successfully negotiated my degree.  But I declined the invitation to dinner with the faculty that the new Ph.D has, as having become their peer.  A few days later, the five years soon to be getting over, I left.

 (And please do not compare my negotiating my Ph.D. to caro Raul’s obvious negotiation of his M.Phil. – V’mala 62.  I had sat for and passed the proper prerequisite examinations!)   

 Poor Prof Geertz was clearly very embarrassed that her potential White swan had metamorphosed into this ugly Brown duck!   No, no, the Department and she – and this I make emphatically clear – had been very supportive, and my qualms about “namak-harami” were brushed away by her and by Prof Rena Lederman.  I value indeed the opportunity I had to study the Western system from within it.  But my concern is with the hegemonic paradigm so well-illustrated in the uninhibited typecasting of Hindus by Profs Klor de Alva and Boon (see Part 1 of Krishen Kak, “Enucleated Universes: An Ethnography of the Other America and of Americans as the Other”, Princeton University, Ph.D. dissertation, June 1990, available in America on an inter-library loan through your academic or friendly neighbourhood public library.  On “namak-harami”, see its fn 5, Part 1.III).  

 Now, it is easy to point out worse attitudes in the Brown system but we, by our own general consensus (by “the people’s mandate”, if you prefer!), are a people inferior to the White.

 Call it the “fair and lovely” syndrome.  If you’re fair, you’re by definition lovely.  And the White is by definition fair and, therefore, lovely. 

 The White West universities by general consensus (that includes themselves and elite English-speaking Indians) are the best in the world, and the White Western educational system is the best, and the White West is the best……..

 Sure it is, if you’re willing to be co-opted by their system, to gratify them by praising theirs and running down our own, to becoming faux White.  Okay, okay, the full reasoning is in that dissertation which first q.v., so “flames” will be promptly extinguished if you’re responding angrily only to its findings as repeated here.  Don’t forget I defended in extended, publicly and successfully these findings there! 

 Apart from my experience as a grad and, this offering illustrates two points: how mainstream America / the Western social paradigm / mainstream White culture really perceive us “Hindus” and, much more significantly for us, how we continue to reinforce that perception. 

 And the larger point of that research that, in analysing the Western social paradigm, implicitly warns against blindly seeking a White solution to Brown social problems.  The remedy is worse than the disease, and we seek it at our peril.  


Gautam sen

Jul 7, 1:29

The main issue is how to stop their ‘normal’ prevalence being used to attack the entire fabric of the Hindu order, its society and the Indian State , or what  remains of it.

Without political power and control over the Indian State all endeavours to defend Hinduism will remain painfully difficult. India will soon be ruled directly from Brussels, headquarters of NATO .mark my words.


Lalitha vaidyanathan

 July 02, 2007

 Indian academics should rise to the occasion and do a better job of critiquing and debating  Western scholarship on India , the authors said.

 “Enough funds should be made available for scholars so that such detailed work can be carried out in India to counter such misrepresentations,” says Rajiv Malhotra, a US-based Diasporas  intellectual who first exposed many of these biases.


Tavleen Singh   

July 01, 2007

Indian students who want to learn about their religion and civilization have to go to foreign universities where they are taught that Hinduism has no philosophy or higher idea, only a pantheon of badly behaved gods and priests. Until Indian scholars work actively to rectify this scandalous distortion, it will prevail. But where are the scholars going to come from if our own universities do not produce them?


Sanjeev Nayyar

June 28, 2007

 India has not actively funded and managed the American academic representation of her cultural identity. Therefore, on one hand American Business Schools view India as a place of opportunity and problem-solving creativity, on the other, the large civilizational achievements of India in science and technology or its contributions to American lifestyles through yoga, vegetarianism, non-violent political protest are made invisible.

 Today, Sanatan Dharma in U.S. universities is taught more by Christians, than Hindus themselves. There is a very powerful trend in the American establishment that views Indian culture and Sanatan Dharam in particular, as being oppressive, psychologically destructive and the cause of India ’s problems like poverty.  This view is very strongly held in many top American schools like the University of Chicago , among influential “secular” professors of the humanities.  From these colleges, where America ’s elite are trained, a very biased view of India emanates, and can undermine the ‘ India brand’ built by I.T.  and automotive component cos.

 Why does this book concern Resident Indians? Given the neglect of rigorous academic documentation of our history and culture, there is an almost blanket use of foreign textbooks, academic material and research in teaching, learning and authentically defining Indian history and culture. The views of European Indologists or American Sanskrit scholars loom massively as “truth” in the psyche of the student, teacher and intelligentsia.

While this book is in the first instance about reclaiming the space for unbiased and non-defamatory academic research and study of Indian culture in the U.S. academia, its import goes well beyond that.  No nation can surrender sovereignty over the authentic documentation of its culture -or of its problems and solutions- to others.  It is not only a matter of academic debate, or of traumatized Indian-American children and adults; it is also a strategic imperative in the projection of soft power as the Indian nation rises to its rightful place at the world’s high table

Smita Deshmukh

June 30, 2007

The scholars also express the need for India to have a home team to debate about its religion and culture, the way China and Islamic nations have many scholars in the West writing from a sympathetic Islamic centric view point . The idea is to hear all voices- not to silence the western voices, but ensure that bias is exposed . The standard portrayal of Hinduism, often a caricature, is far from the truth.


 V. Balachandran

Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat

7 July 2007

 “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.

 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 ofthe 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 California State 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.


Dr. V. V. Raman
Emeritus Professor of Physics and Humanities
Rochester Institute of Technology
July 7, 2007

 Possible impacts

This book could have three kinds of impact: From now on, many scholars, Hindu and non-Hindu, may become extremely cautious about what they publish on traditional Hindu themes. This could be viewed as a damper on freedom of expression, but also as an antidote to irresponsible commentaries. Another effect of the book could be that in the future there may be a decreasing number of non-Hindus who choose to pursue Hindu studies as a life-long commitment, because they may see this to be a rather risky profession. This may or may not be a loss for Hindu scholarship. Or thirdly, the whole field may be influenced in positive ways if outsiders take seriously the insights and perspectives that insiders provide.

 Given that throughout the book there is little of anything positive in Western scholarship and attitudes, I am somewhat concerned that those unfamiliar with the openness of Western societies and the positive contributions of Western science and enlightenment, and are legitimately ill-disposed towards America at the present time for various other reasons might get the impression that every American harbors Hinduphobia, and that all American scholars are working in cahoots to denigrate Hinduism and Hindu culture. I am not persuaded that this is the case.

 As a Hindu American I am as much concerned about the demonization of all Americans as of all Hindus. There is potential for such an impression despite the fact that the book explicitly limits itself to criticize one hermeneutics only, namely, Freudian psychoanalysis. However, while the book rightly exposes many intolerable aspects of Hindu studies in the U.S. , it does not explicitly mention that there are also scholars in the United States who have genuine regard and respect for Hindu culture, religion, and civilization. In fact, some of them have contributed to this book. Others have embraced Hinduism themselves. Yet others are secular scholars who speak and write just as harshly about Christ and the Virgin Mary. It is also true that a Hindu woman was recently elected as President of the American Academy of Religion, Hindu scholars teach Hindu philosophy in American universities, one of them is Head of the Department of Religion in a Christian College in America, American universities host conferences on Hindu philosophy and Vedanta. The Metanexus Institute on Science and Religion elected a Hindu as their Senior Scholar prior to giving that honor in succeeding years to a Catholic theologian and a Jewish scholar. Many schools in America invite local Hindus to come and speak to their students about Hinduism, its worldviews, festivals, etc. There is a growing number of Interfaith Forums in the country where Hindus play important roles. Recently Hindu prayers were introduced in the American Senate.

 There is no question but that courses on Hinduism taught in the United States could and should be vastly improved. This book is certain to contribute to that need. But it is also a fact that there are not many good textbooks for such courses written by competent Hindu scholars.

 Concluding thoughts

It would be good if Indian scholars who may disagree with the contents or perspectives of the book also engage in healthy discussions on its basic thesis. This publication may be taken as an opportunity to enter into mutually respectful and productive dialogues and debates, which can only serve the greater cause of Hindu culture at this important juncture in our history.

All parties will be losers if the current state of inimical tension is allowed to fester and persist for long, and the diverging perspectives between insiders and outsiders are looked upon by both groups as classic conflicts between devas and asuras. The book diagnoses a serious problem, but now we must take the next step, which would be to explore effective ways to enhance the understanding of Hinduism, and elevate the quality of Hindu scholarship and the West and in India


Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Books, History


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What would be the fate of TRUTH if a Historian turns to be a Fiction author?

What would be the fate of TRUTH if a Historian turns to be a Fiction author?

[A copy of an article written by Shri S L Bhyrappa in Vijaya Karnataka, 27th September, 2006).]

During 1969-70, the Central Government under Smt. Indira Gandhi, with a mission to integrate the nation through education had established a committee under the Chairmanship of G .Parthasarathy, a diplomat whowas close to Nehru-Gandhi family. At that time I was a reader in Educational Philosophy at NCERT and I was selected as one of the fivemembers of the committee. In the first meeting Mr. Parthasarathy, theChairman of the committee had explained the purpose of the committee in his diplomatic polite language: “it is our duty not to sow the seeds of thorns in the minds of the growing children which will shapeup as barriers for the national integration. Such thorns are mostly seen in the history lessons. Even we can find them occasionally in the language and social science lessons. We have to weed out such thorns. We have to include only such thoughts which will inculcate the concept of national integration in the minds of the children.This committee has this great responsibility on it.”

Other four members were nodding their heads respectfully. I said:
“Sir, I am not able to understand your words. Will you please explain with some illustrations? “

“Gazni Mohammed had looted Somnath Temple, Aurangzeb built the mosques by demolishing the temples in Kashi and Mathura, he collected jizya – is it helpful to build a strong India under the present circumstances by conveying such useless facts, other than generating the hatred in the minds?”

“But are not they the historical truths?”

“Plenty of truths are there. To use these truths discriminately is the wisdom of the history”

The remaining four members simply nodded their heads by saying “yes, yes”.

“You gave examples of Kashi and Mathura. Even today every year lakhs of people go to these places from all nooks and corners of the country as pilgrims. They can see very clearly the huge mosques built using the same walls, pillars and columns of the demolished temples ,they can also see a recently built cow shed like structure in a corner, behind the mosque, representing their temple. All the pilgrims are distressed to witness such awful structures. They describe the plight of their temples to their relatives after they return home. Whether this can create national integration? One can hide the history in the school texts. But can we hide such facts when these children go on excursions? The researchers have listed more than thirty thousand such ruined temples in India. Can we hide them all? . . . . .”

Mr. Parthasarthy interrupted me by asking “you are a professor of Philosophy. Please tell us what the purpose of history is?”

“No body can define the purpose of history. We do not know how thethings shape up because of the development of science and technology in the future. Some western thinkers might have called it the philosophy of history. But such thoughts are futile. Our discussion here should be, what is the purpose of teaching history? History is seeking the truth about our past events, learning about the ancient human lives by studying the inscriptions, records, literary works, relics, artifacts etc. We should not commit the same blunders that our predecessors committed, we have to imbibe the noble qualities that they have adopted, historical truths help us to learn all these things.. . . .”

“Can we hurt the feelings of the minority? Can we divide the society? Can we sow the seeds of poison . . . .”

He stopped me with these questions.

“Sir, the categorization on the lines of majority and minority would itself result in the division of the society or that would be a strategy to divide the society. This idea of ‘seeds of poison’ is prejudiced. Why should the minority think that Gazni Mohammed, Aurangzeb are their own people? Mughal kingdom was destroyed by the religious bigotry of Aurangzeb. Mughal kingdom was at its pinnacle because of Akbar’s rules for religious harmony; can’t we teach such lessons to the children without offending the historical truths? Before teaching the lessons to be learnt from the history, should we not explain the historical truths? These ideals of hiding history are influenced by the politics. This trend will not last long. Whether they are minority or majority, if the education does not impart the intellectual power to face the truth and the resultant emotional maturity then such education is meaningless and also dangerous.” I said.

Parthasarathy agreed. He appreciated my scholarship and ability to think. During lunch break he called me separately, indicated his closeness to me by touching my shoulders, enquired about my native place.

He asked me to write a Kannada word, and spoke two sentences in Tamil thus emphasized the fact that we are from neighboring states, speaking the sister languages.

Afterwards he said with a winning smile, “your thoughts are correct academically. You write an article about this. But when the government formulates a policy governing the entire nation, it has to combine the interests of all the people. Puritan principles do not serve any purpose.”
Next day when we met, I struck to my stand strongly. I argued that history that is not based on truth is futile and dangerous too.

Parthasarathy showed his irritation on his face. I did not budge. The morning session closed without arriving at any conclusion.

Parthasarathy did not speak to me again.

After a fortnight again we met. The committee was re-structured, my name was not there, in my place a lecturer in history by name Arjun dev with leftist ideas was included in the committee. The revised text books of science and social studies published by NCERT and the new lessons that were introduced in these texts were written under his guidance. These are the books which were prescribed as texts in the congress and communist ruled states or they guided the text book writers in these States.


(I am quoting this instance taken from my presidential speech at Alwas Nudisiri, second conference held on October 21, 22, 23-2005).

NCERT books for XI standard, Ancient India is written by a Marxist historian R.S. Sharma and Medieval India written by another Marxist historian Satish Chandra, when reviewed, one can observe that how members belonging to this group had a scheme to invade the minds of growing children.

According to them Asoka preached to respect even (stress is mine) Brahmins by advocating the quality of tolerance. He had banned the ritual of sacrificing the animals and birds, performance of yagnas were stopped due to this ban, Brahmins lost their share of dakshina (cash gifts) and their livelihood was affected. After Asoka, Maurya kingdom was disintegrated and many parts of this kingdom came underthe rule of Brahmins. How childish it is, to say that a highly influential religion, which had spread all over India and even crossed the borders to reach foreign shores declined because of dissatisfied Brahmins who were deprived of their dakshina (cash gifts).

Muslims demolished the temples to loot the riches and wealth accumulated in these temples — this explanation softens their actions. In some other context they may even say the looting may be  according to the laws of Shariat which again paints the events as insignificant.

Dr. Ambedkar in the section, the decline and fall of Buddhism (Writings and Speeches volume III, Government of Maharashtra 1987 pp 229-38) after explaining the events like Muslim invaders destroying the universities of Nalanda, Vikramasheela, Jagaddala, Odanthapura etc., brutal killings of the Buddhist monks, escape of Buddhist monks to Nepal, Tibet to save their lives says, “the roots of Buddhism were axed. Islam killed the Buddhism by killing priestly class of Buddhism. This is the worst catastrophe suffered by the Buddhism in India.”

These Marxists who quote Dr. Ambedkar whenever it is convenient for them to denigrate Hinduism, ignore nicely these words ‘the decline of Buddhism in India is due to terrifying actions of Muslims ‘of Dr. Ambedkar, who fought against the caste system in Hinduism throughout his life and at the end embraced Buddhism; this may be it is one of the important philosophies of Indian Marxists. R.S. Sharma the author of NCERT text Ancient India,  New Delhi, 1992 p 112 writes, “Buddha viharas attracted Turkish invaders because of their wealth. They were the special greedy targets for the invaders. Turks killed many Buddhist monks. Despite these killings, many monks escaped to Nepal and Tibet.”

Here the clever Marxists have hidden the fact that Muslims destroyed these religious places as dictated by Shariat by calling Muslims of Turkey with a tribal name Turkish. At the same time they write that Buddhism declined during Asoka’s reign because of Brahmins who were deprived of their dakshina (monetary gifts). One should appreciate their cleverness to hide a truth by creating an untruth.


The English scholars who started writing Indian histories on the lines of European history have introduced a cunning idea behind their scholarship. First they established that Indian culture is Vedic culture. The creators of this culture are Aryans who were outsiders. Aryans established themselves by destroying the local civilization. All the invaders who came later were outsiders. Muslims came. After them we (English) came. Therefore if we are not natives of this country, you are also not natives of this land. English strengthened this argument in the universities, media and also in the minds of the English educated people.

Rig-Veda the so called religious text of Aryans was written when they were outside India. That means the basic religion of Indians was originated from a foreign land. This argument severed the spiritual relationship between India and Indians. English educated Indians were struggling with this alien feeling for about 100 years. This argument sowed and enraged the feelings of hatred and racial hostility between Aryans who were outsiders and the Dravidians the natives of this land. It is easy to create the feelings of hatred and hostility. But the people who know the human psychology can understand that it is very difficult to come out of such feelings even after knowing that the reasons quoted in support of these arguments were proved wrong.

Although the research conducted in the later periods discovered many facts which disapproved the Aryan Invasion theory, nobody has written a complete history of India from the Indian point of view.  Under such circumstances, freedom fighter, follower of Gandhi, famous advocate, the member of Constitution Drafting Committee, a great scholar, founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Kanhiahlal Munshi had planned to write a complete Indian history.

He invited an eminent scholar and researcher R.C. Majumdar to be the editor of this book. Both of them entered into a contract. As per the terms of the contract Munshi should supply all the equipment and finance that is required by Majumdar. But he should never interfere in the matters of choosing the historians to write various sections, and also in the ensuing discussions. Munshi was committed to this agreement.

Majumdar and his team of scholars published 11 volumes of a complete, objective and scholarly book, ‘THE HISTORY AND THE CULTURE OF THE INDIAN PEOPLE’. In the last 15 years nobody has written a book like this singly or jointly.

National Book Trust had proposed to translate all these volumes in all the Indian languages. The proposal was sent to ICHR (Indian Council for Historical Research) The ICHR committee comprised of Communist leaning people like S.Gopal, Tapan Roy Choudhary, Satish Chandra, Romilla Thapar etc. They had recommended that these volumes from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan are not suitable for translation and hence the proposal should be rejected.

This ICHR committee e suggested alternative books for the translation into Indian languages, which were written by either these members of the committee or by their other Marxist comrades. Their list included five books of ICHR president R.S. Sharma; 3 books of S. Gopal (the son of scholar philosopher S. Radhakrishnan); 3 books of Romilla Thapar; 2 books of Bipin Chandra; 2 books of Irfan Habib; 2 books of his father Mohammed Habib; one book of Satish Chandra, books of E.M.S. Namboodripad, then senior leader of Communist Party of India; and the book of British Rajni Pamdatta (who was controlling Indian communists during the decade of 1940s)

But there was not even a single book of Lokamanya Tilak, Jadunath Sarkar or R.C. Majumdar!


(One has to refer Arun Shourie’s EMINENT HISTORIANS: Their Technology.  Various groups hate Arun Shourie for various reasons.

Shourie is special, in the sense that he will investigate thoroughly until he reaches the roots of any subject which he intends to write. In the book Eminent Historians, Sri Shourie has investigated about these writers and has unearthed the details of who had recommended the books for translation and who has received what remuneration how much fees and in what form.)


The influence of Gandhian thoughts had declined in the Congress Party in the last days of Gandhiji. Nehru never followed Gandhian thoughts. Though he had great admiration for the democracy of England, in his heart he had love for the communism of Russia. After he came to power he gradually sidelined other congress leaders. The death of Patel was a boon to him. Rajendra Prasad as a President was only a formal head. Rajaji, Krupalani though they formed their own parties, were not influential enough. Nehru was not innocent though he was under the control of a radical communist like Krishna Menon. He was well known in the international circles because he was one of the leading figures who followed the global non-alignment policy but yet he was disliked by western countries like America as the non alignment policy had the strong support of communist Russia. As a result India suffered a loss.

India’s loss was not Nehru’s loss. He was so much devoted and had a strong faith in communism that his government and the entire Indian Media was chanting the mantra, Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai as a daily ritual till China forcibly kicked us out of our own land. In the meantime communists (Marxists) had occupied the Indian intellectual world. Nehru had a scheme to divide Hindus and to please the Muslims for his political survival. Nehru adopted the same strategy that British used to continue their regime in this country.

Secularism means a word of contempt used to address only Hindus. Secularism means our duty towards Muslims and Christians. Nehru spread the message that minority will never be secular. M.C. (Mohammed Karim) Chagla in his autobiography, ‘Roses in December’ writes, he was born and brought up in Mumbai. He was a lawyer in the same city, earned a great name as an honest person. Later he retired as the Chief Justice of Mumbai High Court. He wanted to contest for Loksabha. He wrote a letter to Nehru asking for a ticket for one of the constituencies of Mumbai. He was given a ticket from Aurangabad constituency through a letter from Congress high command. He had written a letter in reply to the high command letter, “I was born and I grew up in Mumbai, I am familiar with the people of Mumbai by serving them. Why did you give me ticket for the unfamiliar Aurangabad?” Nehru’s high command answer for this letter was,

“Aurangabad is a Muslim majority constituency. You are also a Muslim. So you can contest from that constituency. “


Indira Gandhi had one and only aim of retaining the power, so she needed the support of communists to crush the Jansangh and the old guards of Congress like Morarji Desai, Nijalingappa, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Kamraj and others. Communists knew pretty well that they cannot occupy the seat of power directly, so they devised a plan so that at least their theories would capture the seat of power.

Therefore Indira Gandhi helped them to enter and occupy the posts in the universities, media, ICHR, NCERT etc. Communist Russia also pressurized to follow this path.

Nehru and his daughter had become so close to Russia that they were not in a position to oppose her strongly. Communists somehow learnt the tactics from the dictatorial administration models of Russia and China to take the reins in their hands completely after occupying the vital places in the intellectual life of the country. This still continues even the lifeline of UPA government of Sonia Gandhi is in the hands of communists.

Media pretended silence when leftists occupied the education and history commissions, the departments of history, social science, literature and other subjects of the universities in our country. Leftists raised their voices when Murali Manohar Joshi from NDA government tried to bring the changes like Indianising the education, directing to mention the contributions of the ancient India to science while teaching science, advising to begin the day in the schools with Saraswathi Vandana. Even media projected them as great calamities. Congress members and the proponents of equality started a movement because they could visualize the rising storms in the country due to these changes. Nobody from these groups are objecting when Arjun Singh is resurrecting the leftist agenda in its extreme form. Media, specially the English media, in fact is encouraging this trend.

The only aim of Congress is to retain the power and it lacks the original thinking. It is sleeping blissfully in the thought of borrowing it from the communists. But it is following the liberal policies, thinking that the economic policies of the previous government had damaged the economy. Communists have accepted these policies in their hearts and are unable to come out of the clutches of Marxism, the very basis of their identity.

The methods adopted by the leftists to spread their roots are not different from the bane of caste politics in India. They systematically execute the tasks of appointing people who are loyal to their theories in the universities, presenting their own theories through newspapers, television and other media, getting appreciative criticisms for the books written by their favorite writers, devising plans to banish the writers from the opposite group, spreading their messages by organizing seminars frequently to attract the growing minds, getting awards and titles for their own men from the government. They have started a system of literary criticism for evaluating the books in the light of the standards defined in their theories. They think that they have reduced to the dust the traditional concepts of criticism like pure literature, aesthetics, imagery, context etc.

Even the truth in case of communists would be the stand taken by their party, similarly other values like art, morals etc. I need not explain these things to the people who have read the books written about these topics published by the communist Russia and sold at cheaper rates in India and in other countries.


I am always interested in the sociology, psychology history and other branches of humanities. I have studied all these subjects to some extent. Philosophy is my professional subject. Soundarya Meemse is my research field. But I am interested in the literature, I started writing novels. Truth and beauty, specially the relationship between the truth and the literature is haunting my mind. How much liberty an author has while creating the historical characters which are clearly defined by the inscriptions, records, relics, excavations and other evidences? I am haunted by this query- what is the nature of this liberty?

The statements made by the author of ‘The Real Tipu ‘(Kannada translation “Tipu – nija swaroopa” by Pradhan Gurudatta, Sahithi Sindhu Prakashana, Nrupathunga Road, Bangalore 1) H.D. Sharma in his preface in the matter has stimulated my thoughts:  “Tipu sultan has recently leaped from the history books on to the small screen. This has created a special interest about him and his period. This has raised a serious debate. Because many people – specially the people from Kerala – feel that Tipu was not like he was shown in the TV serial. (The serial is based on the novel ‘The Sword of Tipusultan’ by Bhagwan S. Gidwani is full of lies and has twisted the facts.) TV serial has contributed the untruths in its own way. This raging debate motivated me to make a detailed study about Tipu. When I learnt the facts I was shocked.” (This is the English translation of Pradhan Gurudat’s Kannada translation quoted by Mr. Bhyrappa in the article.)

Of course, one should not think about the Indian, specially the Bollywood people who are experts in selling their thrilling, colorful entertainments. Even the people who write ballads are fromthe village fairs and dramas. But why people who write serious literature create thrilling, entertaining scenes of different type?

Why do not they be loyal to the historical facts? Why do not they release themselves from the clutches of the historians of their ideology and try to interpret the historical evidences thinking independently? The historian S. Shettar (ICHR president) who supported Girish Karnad says, “Girish Karnad while writing a drama on Tippu sultan was searching for his good qualities only with the purpose of writing a drama. Dramatists and historians and creative writers will have their own ideals.”

(Vijaya Karnataka, 27th September, 2006).


Please read  Oh History! My History!



Posted by on September 2, 2012 in History



Oh History! My History!

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


Tags: , ,

On Arya , Aryan , Sarasvathi and other issues

This was initially written in response to comments from Mr. Kushwaha concerning a number of issues arising out of Bharatha_Varsha and Bharathas.

I am posting this at the suggestion of Riverine , to invite further comments from others on the Forum.

I suggest, read Bharatha_Varsha and Bharathas  before proceeding with this post.

Please read on..

1. Aryan 

The question of race, particularly the Aryan race is a messy one. It is one of those famous “False problems”. Let us start from the other end and clear the deck.

Aryan is an English word derived from the Vedic Sanskrit and Iranian Avestan terms Ari-, Arya-, Ariya-, and it’s another form Aryana. The Sanskrit and Old Persian languages both pronounced the word as Arya. The term came widely into use (misuse) early in 19th century. How it came to be developed and later how the British and others hijacked it is an interesting story.

Aryan theory was, initially, developed by Danish and German scholars of the romanticism era, like R. Rask and F. Bopp (1816) . The German linguists such as the Leipzig Junggrammatiker school members further developed it. The theory of an immigration into or invasion of South Asia by speakers of Indo Aryan language based on the familiar concept of the Hunnic and Germanic invasions of the Roman empire, emerged late in the 19th century.

The British latched on to the theory of an invasion by superior Indo Aryan speaking Āryas (‘‘Aryan invasion theory’’) as a means to justify British policy and their own intrusion into India and their subsequent colonial rule. In both cases (Hunnic/Germanic and British), a ‘white race’ was subduing the local darker-colored population. In a single stroke  AIT  negated the legacy and traditions of entire subcontinent; and  told them they lived on borrowed glory.

Further, the British also employed it, as a tool of their “divide and rule” policy, to drive a wedge between the various groups in the Indian people, by propagating that the Aryan invaders from Central Asia destroyed the native civilization and enslaved the native population. The strategy was to set one class / region against another and let them fight it out. The then Viceroy of India Lord Curzon called this policy “furniture of the Empire.” Sir Winston Churchill opposed any policy tending towards decolonization on the ground: “We have as much right to be in India as anyone there, except perhaps for the Depressed Classes who are the native stock”. The British trick/strategy did work and many groups within India supported the British on both the counts and stated quarreling among themselves. Since then the debate on the racial character of the term “Aryan” gathered pace and chugged along.

During the early thirties, the “Aryan” found unexpected supporters in the form of Nazis who employed it as a racial term designating the purest segment of the White race. Nazis put the theory into a highly destructive operation . The holocaust that followed is rather too well known to be recounted here.

The Nazis pointed out to the British that Nazis were doing exactly the thing they (British) themselves were doing in India, subjugating an inferior race. Nazi schoolbooks included lessons on British rule in India . This caught the British on wrong foot. British were embarrassed to find themselves bracketed with Nazis. The British spin-doctors then came up with an explanation that that the Indians were “brown Aryans” and there was no subjugation of Indian people. The British thereafter soft peddled the Aryan theory and slowly receded from it.

In the mean time, things came to a full circle in Persia. An off shoot of this debate was that Persia woke up to its history and decided in March 1935 to call itself Iran , derived from “Arya“, “Aariyā“. We may recall that Darius the Great, King of Persia (521-486 BC), had  proclaimed:

2. (8-15.) I am Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing all kinds of men, King in this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage.”

Having re- discovered his roots the then Shah warmed up to his newfound brethren, the other Aryans, the Nazis. The British were not amused with this blossoming camaraderie; and, promptly snubbed Iran. Later in 1959, Iran came up with a statement that names Iran and Persia could be used interchangeably. However, since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the official name of the country is “Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Because of its association with Nazi propaganda and the stigma that stuck to it, the word “Aryan” is no longer in technical use. Presently, white people go under the label Caucasian. Even in Linguistics, “Indo-European” replaces Aryan.

Now, the infamous AIT – the Aryan Invasion theory stands largely discarded.

Let us leave it at that.

2. Race

The term Arya, either in Sanskrit or Avesthan, has always meant “noble”. Amara_Kosha (2.6.812), the Sanskrit lexicon, explains the term as “sabhya” “sajjana” and “Sadhu“– meaning a gentleman (sabhya-sajjana-sādhavaḥ). Arya is a term used by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis, to mean noble or spiritual. The Vedic Aryans called themselves Arya in the Rig-Veda. Besides Iran, the Éire, the Irish name of Ireland; and Ehre (German for “honor”) are related to the term Arya. The Afghan airline is Aryana; named after the original name of that country. Many children in Iran are named Iran-dokht, Aryan pour etc. based on the term Arya. Similarly, the South Indian names like, Ponna_iah, Subba_iah or Ayya_sami etc. carry its cognate iah to assign respect to the name. The term, obviously, is employed in the context of culture than race

In all these cases, the people of those countries, belonging to various ethnic groups , preferred to associate with the term Arya to signify that they were a noble and a respected people . There were no racial tags attached to it.

Some say Rig-Veda too does not employ the term in a racial sense. According to Shrikant Talageri, among the tribes mentioned, most of whom of same race; Rig Veda refers to Purus and especially to Bharathas as Aryans. It is, therefore, a matter of regard and respect than of race.

I learn that in Manu Smrithi even Chinese were called Aryans. The South Indian Kings called themselves Aryans and those of whom that established kingdoms in South East Asia also called themselves Aryans.(to check with azygos)

Sri Aurobindo did not like the use of the term race in this context. He said, “I prefer not to use the term race, for race is a thing much more difficult to determine than is usually imagined.”

According to Michel Wetzel, designation of a particular race to people speaking a language is an aberration of the 19th and 20th century

Eva Nthoki Mwanika while commenting on the race of the Egyptian people said, ”The Egyptians did not recognize “race” with in the same context or definition in which modern society recognizes it and that, the division of humankind into races as understood in the modern sense is a recent phenomenon.” She went on to say, we are trying to impose a modern term “race” on an ancient people who had a non-racial self-perception and a different worldview.

I presume we can safely echo the views of Ms. Mwanika in the Aryan context as well.

As regards the Buddha,  he used the term Ariya any number of times. Sometimes he used the term to imply, “one who strives upward”, and that is to say the noble ones. He used the term Anariya to mean ignoble or vulgarFor instance he called extreme indulgence or extreme austerity as anariya and anatta samhita (futile). Most other times the term “ariya” was used to mean “noble”. For instance ariya sacchani (noble truths) and ariya patha (eightfold aryan path or the noble path).

In the later forms of Buddhism, the path to enlightenment is graduated into four stages. The arahat (the fourth stage of realization) is a fully enlightened being, having extinguished all defilements. The sotapanna (first stage of realization, also sotapatti-magga-nana) has uprooted wrong view but still has other defilement. The sakadagami and anagami are at the second and third stage of realization, respectively. All four are called ariyas, that is, noble.

There is a section in the pali cannon (tipitaka) in which the Buddha talks about himself. That section is titled ariya_pariyesana sutta. Similarly, in the Buddhist traditions of Burma and Sri Lanka , the future Buddha is generally referred to as ariya metteyya, the noble metteyya.

In the context I mentioned above, both the terms arya and aryan were  exclusively psychological terms or adjectives  denoting  noble or virtuous , and having very little to do with birth, race, or nationality.

3. Sarasvathi

As you mentioned, itis generally accepted that the SarasvatI represents the geographical heartland of the Vedic Aryan civilization. You are echoing the often-repeated statementthat while Rig Veda mentions the Ganga only once, it lauds the great Sarasvati fifty times. Yes, I agree, it is so.

As I mentioned in my post, the Rig Veda has a certain geographical horizon. It projects a land of seven great rivers bounded by ocean and many mountains. This mainly represents the geographical sphere of the Bharatas and their neighbors. Rig Veda is not talking about entire Bharatha Varsha. The geographical horizon of Rig Veda is confined to the Sarasvathi valley, the heartland of Puru/Bharatha country.

Further, the Purus and especially the Bharathas are the protagonists of Rig Veda. It extols their relations, their rituals, their Gods, their battles and their victories etc. The geography of the of the Rig Veda is therefore limited to the Sapta Sindhu region, the land of thePurus \ Bharathas ,who are the real Aryans of the Rig Veda.

In short;  Rig Veda is mainly the story of Purus/Bharathas. Naturally, Rig Veda speaks all the while about their land, their rivers, their mountains etc. It does not mean that the other parts of Bharatha Varsha (as you mentioned, the Ganga and others) did not exist. Those regions just did not figure in the Puru/Bharatha story. In fact, some of the Purus of Rig Veda hailed from what is now the U.P. region (e.g. Sudyumna).Rig Veda frequently refers to the Puru clan as children of Nahusha. This Nahusha was the father of Yayathi and ruled the in the Gangetic region.

(Interestingly, Nahash in old Hebrew means serpent. I am not suggesting any connection).

That is the reason, why there are not many references to the Ganga in Rig Veda. The position as explained, I presume, answers your question.

The range of the Puranas, on the other hand, is much wider .They speak of other regions of Jambu_dvipa/Bharatha Varsha, other Kings, their histories, as well. The Puranas are part history and part epic. The style of their narration is more relaxed and elaborate.


kassette mittani

Earlier we spoke of migration from North West into the Punjab region. Now, let us look at the, migration that might probably have taken place in the other direction.

The slow death and eventual disappearance of the mighty Sarasvathi also signified the end of the civilization associated with the Sarasvathi valley. The geo physical surveys and other studies suggest that around 1600 BC a massive drought struck the Sarasvathi region. That, and possible shift in the land lead to disappearance of the Sarasvathi. It was perhaps a part of a wider phenomenon that swept the other regions too. The people of the Sarasvathi valley, naturally, migrated to other regions. From a throbbing account of living generations, Rig Veda turned into memories of a lost heartland. A Camelot lost.

The disappearance of Sarasvathi valley civilization is a very important landmark in the history of Bharatha Varsha.

The presence of the Indo -Aryan kings of the Mittani and the Kassite dynasties, who worshiped Vedic deities, in the Babylonian region , during 1600 to 1300 BC , points to the possibility of migration of Vedic people from the plains of Punjab, following the collapse of the Sarasvathi valley civilization.

It is evident from the names of some of the Miittani and Kassite Kings and Generals (Kart-ashura,Biry-ashura,Sim-ashura,Kalm-ashura etc.) that they belonged to the early Rig Vedic times when the Asuras were the older set of gods; and when the sharp distinction between Asurasand Devas had not yet come into being ; and when the Asuraswere not yet a denigrated lot in the Vedic texts.

It is also evident that the Indo –Aryan kings were a minority among a population who spoke a different language.

It is remarkable how in the distant past , the Vedic people migrated from Punjab to the regions of Mesopotamia and Egypt .

(There is theory that suggests , Nefertiti (c.1400 BC) married to Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep IV was a Mittani princess , daughter of an Indo Aryan King)

(For more on Mittani and Kassite kingdoms and Rig Veda , Gathas ; please view-

“Rig Veda and Gathas re visited” @ )

4. Bharatha_Varsha / Arya_Vartha

I think you got into knots over the Bharatha_Varsha and Arya_Vartha . Let me clarify.

As discussed in the post the name Bharatha_Varsha came into vogue at the time of the Emperor Bharatha who was fifth or sixth in line from Swayabhuva Manu, the first Manu. The various Purans and texts have described the extent of Bharatha _Varsha as extending from the ocean in the South to the snowy mountains.

As regards Arya_vartha, the term might have come into use, at best, in Vedic times, in the manvantara of Vaivaswata Manu, the seventh Manu. There is, therefore, a huge time gap between the two occurrences. I do not even hazard a guess to measure the gap.

At times, it is used to refer to the Rig Vedic geography and at other times to the Ganga Valley. Sometimes, it amorphously referred to what we call India.

Bharatha Varsha, even in the times of Mauryas was larger in area than the present India . Kautila called it Chakravarthi Kshetra. It was before Asoka’s time.

Bharatha _Varsha has always been a nation even from the epic times overwhelming the political subdivisions.


Thank you





Posted by on September 1, 2012 in General Interest, History


Tags: , , ,

Bharatha Varsha and Bharathas


Traditionally the Indians, while in India, in their daily prayers, identify themselves as those residing in Bharatha_Varsha (the land of Bharatha), located to the South of MountMeru in the Jambu_Dvipa. Then, they go on to specify their location within the subcontinent.

What does this mean?


1. Cosmology

According to the cosmology projected in the books of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, the planet Earth consists seven islands (Saptha Dweepa vasundhara). One of those islands is Jambu_Dvipa (RoseAppleIsland) also known as Sudarshanadvipa.

Markandeya Purana says, Jambu_Dvipa is depressed on its south and north; elevated and broad in the middle. The elevated region forms the Ila-vrta or Meruvarsa. At the center of Ila-vrta lies the MountMeru.


2. Location

Some attempts have been made , though not satisfactorily , to identify the zones(varshas) and the extent of the Jambu_Dvipa, by taking a clue from the details of mountain ranges, valleys and river systems and other geographical features of Jambu_Dvipa provided in Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharata and in other Puranas.

According to one of those interpretations , Jambu_ Dvipa is a huge land mass of South Asia comprising the present day Indian Subcontinent, Tibet , Egypt , Mesopotamia , Syria and Corinth( near main land Greece).

Sanjaya said:  ‘Stretching from east to west, are these six mountains that are equal and that extend from the eastern to the western ocean.

 They are Himavat, Hemakuta, the best of mountains called Nishadha, Nila abounding with stones of lapis lazuli, Sweta white as the moon, and the mountains called Sringavat composed of all kinds of metals.  These are the six mountains, O king, which are always the resorts of Siddhas and Charanas. The space lying between each of these measures a thousand Yojanas, and thereon are many delightful kingdoms. And these divisions are called Varshas, O Bharata.

This (the land where we are) is in the Varsha that is called after Bharata.. Next to it (northwards) is the Varsha called after Himavat. The land that is beyond Hemakuta is called Harivarsha, South of the Nila range and on the north of the Nishadha is a mountain, O king, called Malyavat that stretches from east to west.

Beyond Malyavat northwards is the mountain called Gandhamadana.  Between these two (viz., Malyavat and Gandhamadana) is a globular mountain called Meru made of gold. Effulgent as the morning sun, it is like fire without smoke.   It is eighty-four thousand Yojanas high, and, O king, its depth also is eighty-four Yojanas. It standeth bearing the worlds above, below and transversely.

Besides Meru are situated, O lord, these four islands, viz., Bhadraswa, and Ketumala, and Jamvudwipa otherwise called Bharata, and Uttar-Kuru which is the abode of persons who have achieved the merit of righteousness. Bhishma Parva – Section vi

11 tasya pārśve tv ime dvīpāś catvāraḥ saṃsthitāḥ prabho/    bhadrāśvaḥ ketumālaś ca / jambūdvīpaś ca bhārata /  uttarāś caiva kuravaḥ kṛtapuṇyapratiśrayāḥ – The Mahabharata in Sanskrit-Book  6-Chapter 7

It is surmised that Ila varsha and Meruvarsha, refer to the mountainous regions around the Pamirs and parts of north-east Afghanistan. MountMeru (or Sumeru) is identified with the vast Nagard Sarovar in the center of the modern Pamirs in Central Asia.

indian cosmology2

The concept of Jambu_Dvipa is present not merely in Hindu Puranas but also in Indian literature, history and in edicts.

3.Buddhist tradition

The Buddhist tradition also accepts the geographical concept of Jambu_Dvipa and places it south of Sumeru. It believes Jambu_Dvīpa is shaped like a triangle with a blunted point facing south.

The Buddha once remarked that the people of Jambu_Dvípa excel those of both Uttarakuru and Tavatimsain in three respects – courage, mindfulness and religious life. The Uttarakuru referred to by the Buddha might be the Kuru region mentioned in the Rig-Veda, It might even be the region to the north of Pamirs. There are a number of views on the probable location of Uttarakuru. As regards Tavatimsain, very little is known about it and there are not many guesses either.

In the later Buddhist texts, the connotation of the term Jambu_ Dvipa became more restricted. It came to mean only the Indian subcontinent and did not include even Sri Lanka. The Síhaladípa or Tambapannidípa (alternate names for Sri Lanka in Pali) were mentioned separately from Jambu_dípa.

Further, the Emperor Ashoka introduced himself to the people of Sri Lanka as Devanam Priya (Beloved of Gods) hailing from Jambu_Dvipa, referring to main land India. Incidentally, the modern Sinhalese word for India is Dhambadiva, perhaps related to the Pali name for India, Jambudiipa. One of the other names for India in Buddhist literature is Indravardhana.

The Buddhists divided Jambu_Dvípa into three circuits or mandalas, for the guidance of their itinerant monks. The first circuit Mahámandala (greater circuit) extended over nine hundred leagues and the Majjhima (middle circuit) extended over six hundred leagues. The perambulation of both circuits was expected to be completed, each , in nine months time; while that of the Antima (final circuit) of over three hundred leagues was to be completed in seven months time.


B. Bharatha _Varsha

1.Location and Extent

According to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, the Bharata Varsha, the land of Bharatha, located in Jambu_Dvipa, lies to the South of Sumeru. However, the extent of Bharatha Varsha varies from text to text and from tradition to tradition.

Markandeya Purana describes Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretches from Kailasa to kanyakumari; while Vishnu Purana mentions Bharatha Varsha as The country (var ṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains, where the descendants of Bharata dwell.

uttaraṃ yat samudrasya himādreścaiva dakṣiṇam  varṣaṃ tadbhārataṃ nāma bhāratī yatra santatiḥ

Further, it extols the virtues of Bharatha Varsha and says, “Bharata is the most excellent division of Jambudvipa, for this is the land of action, while the others are places of enjoyment.” Bharata Varsha is designated karmabhumi.


Manu gives a beautiful and a lyrical description of Bharaha Varsha and mentions its various divisions. This is how Manu describes, “The land between the rivers Sarasvati and the Drishadvati, is called Brahmavarta. Beyond it, the land of the five rivers up to the Mathura region is called Brahmarshi Desha. The land between Vinashana (the place of disappearance of the Sarasvati River in the desert) and Prayaga and Vindhya, is Madhya Desha (Central Land). Finally, the land bounded by the mountain of Reva (Narmada), the Eastern Sea ( Bay of Bengal ) and the Western Sea is Arya Desha. This is the land where the black-skinned deer roam freely.”

sarasvatī-dṛśadvatyor devanadyor yad antaram /
taṃ devanirmitaṃ deśaṃ brahmāvartaṃ pracakṣate // Mn_2.17 //
tasmin deśe ya ācāraḥ pāramparyakramāgataḥ /
varṇānāṃ sāntarālānāṃ sa sadācāra ucyate // Mn_2.18 //
kurukṣetraṃ ca matsyāś ca pañcālāḥ śūrasenakāḥ /
eṣa brahmarṣideśo vai brahmāvartād anantaraḥ // Mn_2.19 //
etad deśaprasūtasya sakāśād agrajanmanaḥ /
svaṃ svaṃ caritraṃ śikṣeran pṛthivyāṃ sarvamānavāḥ // Mn_2.20 //
himavadvindhyayor madhyaṃ yat prāg vinaśanād api /
pratyag eva prayāgāc ca madhyadeśaḥ prakīrtitaḥ // Mn_2.21 //
ā samudrāt tu vai pūrvād ā samudrāc ca paścimāt /
tayor evāntaraṃ giryor āryāvartaṃ vidur budhāḥ // Mn_2.22 //
kṛṣṇasāras tu carati mṛgo yatra svabhāvataḥ /
sa jñeyo yajñiyo deśo mlecchadeśas tv ataḥ paraḥ // Mn_2.23 //

Kautilya, the author of Artha Shastra, mentions Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretches from Himalayas to Kanyakumari; and, he also called it Chakravarthi Khsetra, the land of the Emperor.

An epigraph of Kharavela (209 – 179 B. C?) who ruled over the region of the present day Orissa, found in Hathigumpha (near Bhubaneshwar in Orissa) uses the nomenclature of Bharatha Varsha.

The Hindu and Buddhist texts (vinaya) of later ages, described Bharatha Varsha as composed of five zones, namely the Madhya Desha ( the Middle Country), Purva Desha (the Eastern region), Dakshinapatha (the South), Aparanta or Praticya (the Western region) and Uttarapatha or Udicya (the Northern region). This zonal system was in vogue even in the Maurya period (322 BC to 125 BC).The maurya Empire was the largest and most powerful Empire of ancient India. It stretched from Assam to Khandahar; and from Himalayas to Tamil Nadu.

A similar Zonal system is now in India today too. (For more on Zonal systems consult a national cricket selector!.)


ancient bharatha

The different stages of Bharatha _Varsha as given in ancient literature represent various stages in the process of extension of the occupied or known areas of the country, during its history. Its shape is described variously at various stages. The changes represent the dynamics of the times.

A famous passage in Bhisma Parva of Mahabharata describes the shape of Bharatha Varsha. It views Bharatha as an equilateral triangle, divided into four smaller equal triangles, the apex of which is Kanya_ kumari and the base formed by the line of the Himalaya Mountains.

The famous historian Radha Kumud Mookerji remarked,” the shape corresponds very well with the general form of the country, if we extend the limits of India to Ghazni on the north-west and fix the other two points of the triangle at Cape Comorin and Sadiya in Assam.”

The Markandeya Purana is quite specific about the shape of the country. Its configuration is that of a bow in which the Himalaya is like the stretched string of the bow with the quill of the arrow at the peninsular area of the south. It is said to extend into a triangle with its transverse base in the north.

According to Buddhist tradition, Jambudvīpa (subcontinent) is shaped like a triangle with a blunted point facing south.

3.The name

The Sanskrit word Bhāratha is a derivation of bharata. The root of the term is bhr-, “to bear / to carry”, with a literal meaning of “to be maintained”. The root bhr is cognate with the English verb to bear and Latin ferō.

Interestingly, the term Dharma, which is the core concept of Indian values, is derived from the root dhr, meaning – to uphold or to nourish. Both the terms Bharatha and Dharma, eventually signify that which supports universal order or the orderly existence of the individual in life.

The first Article of the Constitution of the Republic of India states, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states.” Thus, India and Bharat are equally official short names for the Republic of India. The name Hindustan was used in historical contexts, especially in British times.

Bharatha Varsha was not always called by that name. Its earlier name was Aja_nabha_Varsha. Before that, it was Himavath Pradesha. Why did it become Bharatha Varsha? Who was this Bharatha?

To know that, we have to go back to Swayambhu Manu, the progenitor. His son was Priyavarta, a great monarch. His son was Agni_dhara. His son was Ajanabha also called Nabhi. Ajanabha was a very virtuous and a noble king. During his reign, the land came to be known as Ajanabha_Varsha. Ajanabha’s son was the great Rsabhadeva. . He was a saintly king. Rsabha renounced the kingdom in favor of his son Bharata and became an ascetic. Bharatha was one of the most pious and noblest of Monarchs of his line. He nourished and nurtured his subjects righteously. During his time, the land that was until then called Aja_nabha_Varsha came to be known, as Bharatha Varsha – ततश्च भारतं वर्षमेतल्लोकेषुगीयते. It has been so since then. Ajanabha (Nabhi), Rsabha and Bharatha figure prominently in the Jain tradition.

What we call Bhatatha Varsha or Bharatha is named after a very virtuous and noble king Bharatha. The best we (who are born and who reside in his land) can do is to be worthy of his name.

Obviously, in the olden days being born in Bharath was a matter of pride. In the Gita, Krishna often refers to Arjuna as Bharatha, the noble one.(For more on the name of India please visit

Over the centuries the name of Bharatha Varsha, its shape and its extent have changed many times. Whatever is its present name, either borrowed or assigned; whatever the extent of its boundaries is; the concept of India that is Bharath has survived as a many dimensional splendor; even amidst the encircling chaos. It has always been a nation. India has held on to its pluralism, its democratic way of life and its basic values; despite strife, contradictions and endless diversities. This is no mean achievement. It is for these reasons we call it, the Miracle that is India.




Rig Veda mentions the tribe of Bharathas several times.

The Rig Veda has a certain geographical horizon. It projects a land of seven great rivers bounded by several oceans and many mountains. It mainly shows the geographical sphere of the Bharatas and their neighbors. Accordingly, Rig Veda mentions that Bharathas ruled the land that spread over the banks of the rivers Parushni ( Ravi ) and Vipasa ( Beas ).

The Purus and in particular the Bharatas among them, are the main Vedic Aryans of the Rig Veda.

2. Battle of Ten Kings (dāśarājñá)

The seventh Mandala of Rig-Veda treats “The Battle of Ten Kings”, fought between the Puru clan and the Turvasha/Drihyu/Anu clans, rather elaborately. There is a view that it was a battle between Aryans and non-Aryans. I however, do not, subscribe to that view. All of those kings involved in the battle –Puru, Turvasha, Druhyu and Anu were the sons of Yayathi who in turn was the son of Nahusha. It was a intra clan fighting.

3.Bharatha son of Dushyanta

Bharathas were a clan among the Purus. The Purus prospered in the North and strengthened the Chandra vamsha (Moon Dynasty). Many generations later into this, clan was born Bharatha son of Dushyanta. The great poet Kalidasa in his epic Abhignana Shakuntalam immortalized the love of Dushyanta and Shakuntala.

Bharatha son of Dushyanta is NOT the Emperor Bharatha whom we discussed earlier and after whom Bharatha _Varsha is named. As per the chronology listed in Vishnu Purana, Bharatha son of Dushyanta appears thousands of years after Emperor Bharatha son of Rshabha. Pandavas and Kauravas are decedents of Dushyanta/Bharatha but are several generations removed from them.

Thus, the Bharatha Tribe of dāśarājñá is far removed from Emperor Bharatha son of Rshabha.


Please read On Arya , Aryan , Sarasvathi and other issues that complement the above post.

Jambu-dweep of Love



Posted by on September 1, 2012 in General Interest, History, Rigveda


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More on Ancient Egypt and India

More on Ancient Egypt and India

 The article “Ancient Egypt and India ” I posted on Sulekha, enjoyed a good response, and was even “featured”. Among the comments I received there were a couple remarking that I appeared to relay more on older sources and wondered whether were no recent archaeological information to strengthen the view that ancient Egypt and India did develop cultural and trade relations.

I consider that a fair comment .I have since come across some information on the subject; hence this post.

To my knowledge there are two recent Archaeological Projects concerning India and Egypt. They are significant particularly because they are taken up at either end of the India –Egypt trade. The India Project is in progress in the Malabar Coast of Southern India , while the other was taken up in Berenike, a long-abandoned Egyptian port on the Red Sea near the border with Sudan .

A. The excavations in India are ongoing at Pattanam in Kerala, believed to be the place where the ancient port of Miziris was located. . Dr. Shajan and V. Selvakumar are the archeologists. The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has issued license to The Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) to carry on further excavations.

Please see my post, “A note On Muziris” for more details on Muziris

1. Muziris, as the ancient Greeks called it, was an important port on the Malabar Coast in Southern India. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans frequented it.   Eudoxus of Cyzicus sailed into Muziris during his two voyages undertaken between 118 and 116 BC. Muzris, is mentioned in the Periplous of the Erythraean Sea and in Ptolemy’s Geography and is prominent on the Peutinger Table. Pliny referred to it several times in his Naturalis Historia . Pliny called this port primum emporium Indiae.

2. There is no doubt Muziris was a major port and was an Emporium, as Pliny called it. Roman imports from India were precious gems, aromatics , spices – specially the pepper , besides cotton. As regards Gems, Muzris acted as the collecting and clearing point. The garnets and quartz came from Arikamedu region (on the East coast of south India), the pearls were from Gulf of Mannar , while lapis lazuli beads were from Kodumanal in the neighboring region. The other stones included diamonds, agate, beryls, citrines etc.

3. An indication of the importance of Muziris as a place for finalizing business deals by Roman traders was brought to light by L. Casson, a scholar, in his paper” New light on marine loans” .He mentioned about a papyrus (called P. Vindob. G 40822 -for identification purposes ), discovered during the year 1985 in  Vienna , which sets out the details of a maritime loan agreement between a ship owner – possibly of the Hermapollon mentioned on the verso of the papyrus and a merchant using the ship as security. The document suggests that the loan arrangement was agreed to while the parties were in Muziris (though possibly signed on arrival at the Red Sea), indicating a rather active Roman merchant colony on the Kerala coast


4. However, Muziris suddenly disappeared in around sixth century and no one has a clue to it. Moreover, by about the same time the trade between Rome/Egypt and India went into decline. I am NOT suggesting the two occurrences were related.

5. Excavations on the site stared around 2004/05 and reported in local and foreign press. Please check cavations-iii/

6. The artefacts recovered from the excavation site include amphora (holding vessels) of Roman make and Yemenis, Mesopotamian, and West Asian ones too, indicating that Pattanam had trade not only with Rome but also with places in the Persian Gulf. The other artifacts recovered include pottery shards, beads, Roman copper coins and ancient wine bottles . In addition, a boat believed to be about 2000(?) years old, Glass and precious stones, roman pottery, bricks and a structure to keep the boat with five wooden structures to tie down the boat.

7. Roberta Tomber of British Museum who is involved in similar other projects visited the site. She remarked, several factors go to strengthen the belief that the objects found on site are remnants of first century Roman trade and similar objects were found during excavations in Egypt.

Excavations on the Pattanam site are in progress. The present findings are not conclusive enough.

8. I believe the Greek/Egyptian and the Roman trade ( that followed later) , with India, came as culmination of relations that existed between India and the West even centuries earlier to Christian era.

B. The other project was at Berenike, a long-abandoned Egyptian port on the Red Sea . The Archaeologists were from UCLA and the University of Delaware USA . The Berenike project was funded by the Netherlands Foundation for Scientific Research, the National Geographic Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Utopa Foundation, Gratama Foundation and the Kress Foundation, and some private donors. Please check the following links for the Project details and findings.

1. In early Roman times, Myos Hormos was the most frequented of the Red Sea ports. However, Berenice began to rise in importance during the first century B.C. and became dominant in the first century A.D… Eventually Berenice replaced Myos Hormos as the most prominent port, because it had one great advantage over Myos Hormos: it was situated some 230 nautical miles further south and therefore spared the homebound vessels days of beating against the northerly winds.

2. Berenike (Berenice Troglodytica) a Graeco-Roman harbor is located on the Red Sea Coast in the far south of the Egyptian Eastern Desert . It is mentioned in the Periplous of the Erythraean Sea and in Ptolemy’s Geography . Pliny referred to it several times in his Naturalis Historia . Eduxous set sail to India from Berenice in 118-116 BC. From here, ships sailed to India and to the East by taking advantage of the monsoon (Hippalus) winds in search of spices, precious stones and other exotic goods. The place where the port was located is now buried under desert. The Archeological teams say, they found here extensive remains of the ancient world’s sea trade between East and West.

3. Some of the finds of excavation at Myos Hormos and Berenike concerning links with India are briefly as under:

Among the buried ruins of buildings that date back to Roman rule, the team discovered vast quantities of teak, a wood indigenous to India and today’s Myanmar , but not capable of growing in Egypt , Africa or Europe .

The archaeologists were especially intrigued by the large amounts of teak, a hardwood native to India , found in the ruins. The presence of so much teak also suggested to the researchers that many of ships were built in India , one of the indications of a major Indian role in the trade.

Dr. Casson, a specialist in ancient maritime history , mentions that historical records refer to ships in the India trade being among the largest of the time. According to Dr. Casson, they could have been as long as 180 feet and capable of carrying 1,000 tons of cargo. Such ships had stout hulls and caught the wind with a huge square sail on a stubby mainmast.

In addition to this evidence of seafaring activities between India and Egypt , the archaeologists uncovered the largest array of ancient Indian goods ever found along the Red Sea , including the largest single cache of black pepper from antiquity – 16 pounds – ever excavated in the former Roman Empire . The team dates these peppercorns, grown only in South India during antiquity, to the first century. Peppercorns of the same vintage excavated as far away as Germany, indicating Egyptian export of Indian goods to West.

In a dump that dates back to Roman times, the team also found Indian coconuts and batik cloth from the first century, as well as an array of exotic gems, including sapphires and glass beads that appear to come from Sri Lanka and carnelian beads that appear to come from India. The excavations also yielded coins — one of King Rudrasena the third, that has been dated to the fourth century and pots with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions. (I am not clear about Rudrasena the third. There is however a reference to rudrasenaII (380 to 385) and to Rudrasena (350 to 355) of Saka dynasty, in Malwa region)

As developed by Greeks and Egyptians, then expanded by the Romans, the Red Sea ports served as transfer points for cargoes to and from India and other places in Africa and Arabia

The co-directors of excavations at Berenike Dr. Steven E. Sidebotham, a historian at the University of Delaware , and Dr. Willeke Wendrich, an archaeologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the research showed that the maritime trade route between India and Egypt in antiquity appeared to be even more productive and lasted longer than scholars had thought.

In addition, it was not an overwhelmingly Roman enterprise, as had been generally assumed. The researchers said artifacts at the site indicated that the ships might have been built in India and were probably crewed by Indians.

4. Dr. Casson gives a summary of some of the trade goods mentioned in the Periplus. According to which the goods imported from / through India were: native spices and drugs and aromatics (costus, bdellium, lykion, nard, malabathron, pepper), gems (turquoise, lapis lazuli, onyx, diamonds, sapphires, “transparent gems”), textiles (cotton cloth and garments as well as silk products from China), ivory, pearls, and tortoise shell.

5. Commenting on the findings of the Berenike Project  Dr.Lionel Casson said,”It’s nice to have archaeologists find concrete evidence for what is attested in the texts.”

6. As in the case of Miziris, sometime before the mid-sixth century the Berenike harbor too silted over, vanished beneath theencroaching desert and was finally abandoned for good. The reasons  are unknown.

Around the same period (sixth century) shipping activities declined, mysteriously both at Miziris and Berenike. I am not suggesting the occurrences were related, in any manner.


7. Egypt and India , both , are ancient countries and it is not surprising if they did develop cultural and trade relations in the antiquity before what we call “recorded history” came into vogue. I believe the Greek/Egypt trade with India and the Roman one that followed thereafter came as a culmination of the relations that existed between India and the West even centuries earlier to Christian era. Incidentally, the Hindi news bulletins carried over the Indian TV and Radio channels still refer to Egypt as Misr (from Mitsrayim in Hebrew?), perhaps reminiscent of those bygone eras.( The name Mizrain appearing in the List of Nations appearing in the Tenth chapter of the Book of Genesis is identified with Egypt.)

Both the countries had a rather rollercoaster type of histories .Their fortunes and affiliations have not been either consistent or uniform. They had their glorious days; they fell on bad days and had plenty of indifferent and forgettable periods. They drifted apart for long periods. Each had been open to foreign influences, in varying degrees, reshaping their appearances and destinies. However, they did influence each other in some ways; and amidst the then existing network, they did succeed in developing close trade and cultural relations.

Why they drifted apart again in sixth century, is another story.


Posted by on September 1, 2012 in History



A Note on Muziris


1. Muziris, as the ancient Greeks called it, was an important port on the Malabar Coast in Southern India . It was frequented by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans.  Eudoxus of Cyzicus sailed into Muziris during his two voyages undertaken between 118 and 116 BC. Muzris,  is mentioned in the Periplous of the Erythraean Sea and in Ptolemy’s Geography and is prominent on the Peutinger Table. Pliny referred to it several times in his Naturalis Historia. Pliny called this port primum emporium Indiae.


The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which was written by an anonymous Greek merchant in the second half of the first century AD, shows a great increase in Roman trade with India.

The author of the Periplus, who probably visited India personally, described in detail the Roman trade with the ports of the Malabar Coast.

The most important port of the Malabar Coast was Muziris (Cranganore near Cochin) in the kingdom of Cerobothra (Cheraputra), which ‘abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia and by the Greeks’.

According to the Periplus, numerous Greek seamen managed an intense trade with Muziris:[29]

“Muziris and Nelcynda, which are now of leading importance (…) Muziris, of the same kingdom, abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia, and by the Greeks; it is located on a river, distant from Tyndis by river and sea five hundred stadia, and up the river from the shore twenty stadia.” – Paul Halsall. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 53-54

They send large ships to the market-towns on account of the great quantity and bulk of pepper and malabathrum [cinnamon]. There are imported here, in the first place, a great quantity of coin; topaz, thin clothing, not much; figured linens, antimony, coral, crude glass, copper, tin, lead, wine, not much, but as much as at Barygaza [Broach]; realgar and orpiment; and wheat enough for the sailors, for this is not dealt in by the merchants there. There is exported pepper, which is produced in quantity in only one region near these markets, a district called Cottonora [North Malabar?]. Besides this there are exported great quantities of fine pearls, ivory, silk cloth, spikenard from the Ganges, malabathrum from the places in the interior, transparent stones of all kinds, diamonds and sapphires, and tortoise shell; that from Chryse Island, and that taken among the islands along the coast of Damirica [Tamil Nadu]. They make the voyage to this place in favorable season that set out from Egypt about the month of July, which is Epiphi.

This provides evidence for a great volume of trade in both directions. The Periplus reported the influx of coins; and, the largest number of Roman gold hoards has been found in the hinterland of Muziris;   most from the period of the Roman emperors Augustus (r. 27 B.C.E.–14 C.E.) and Tiberius (r. 14–37 C.E.).

Black pepper was a major item of trade with the West along both the western and eastern coasts. This rich trade continued on the Malabar Coast through the medieval period. Other items traded were spices, semiprecious stones, ivory, and textiles. Western products coming into India included wine, olive oil, and Roman coins—and in later centuries horses.

A text of the Sangam era highlights this, too: ‘The beautifully built ships of the Yavanas came with gold and returned with pepper, and Muziris resounded with the noise’

There is no doubt Muziris was a major port in its time and was an Emporium, as Pliny called it.

[Strabo was more interested in northern India and in the ports between the mouth of the Indus and present Bombay and he reported next to nothing about South India, Sri Lanka and the east coast of India.]

When Ptolemy wrote his geography around AD 150 Roman knowledge of India had increased even more. He wrote about the east coast of India and also had a vague idea of Southeast Asia, especially about ‘Chryse’, the ‘Golden Country’ (Suvarna-bhumi) as the countries of Southeast Asia had been known to the Indians since the first centuries AD. However, recent research has shown that this so-called Roman trade was integrated into an already flourishing Asian network of coastal and maritime trade.

Pliny the Elder also commented on the qualities of Muziris, although in unfavorable terms:[30]

“If the wind, called Hippalus, happens to be blowing, it is possible to arrive in forty days at the nearest market of India, called Muziris. This, however, is not a particularly desirable place to disembark, on account of the pirates which frequent its vicinity, where they occupy a place called Nitrias; nor, in fact, is it very rich in products. Besides, the road-stead for shipping is a considerable distance from the shore, and the cargoes have to be conveyed in boats, either for loading or discharging.” – Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturae 6.26

sea route

Regarding Muziris , Maddy in his webpage  writes:

Muchiri pattanam, a location close to today’s Kodungallur, was not really a sea port as some believed. It was a city on the banks of the Periyar somewhat inland and accessed through the maze of canals. Roman Ships anchored out in the sea and transported their goods in small boats guided by local pilots through the canals to Pattanam. From centuries in the past until the 14th, the city was well known to the Arab and especially the Roman sailors who conducted trade with Malabar. Sometimes the ships went to Barygaza or Baruch, sometimes to Nelycinda (will be covered in a separate blog) other times, they landed up in Muziris. They came in with Western luxury goods and gold and took away spices and Eastern goods. Sometimes the ships went around the Cape Comorin and docked at Kaveri Poompattinam close to Pondicherry.

The Romans had expatriate settlements or colonies in both places as I mentioned before and much information about them can be found in Sangam Era writings like the Silappadhikaram and Manimekhalai. The Peutinger table shows Muziris on the Roman map and even alludes to an Agustus temple (later studies assume it was an Agasthya temple) in Muziris. Writers like Ptolemy, Pliny and so on had written much about the trade, so also the Tamil poets. So let us conclude that robust trade took place, until the floods of the Periyar wherein the riverbed got silted in the 13th Century. Since that event and due to other issues at the Roman and Arab areas, the trade petered off and veered off to other places like the Cochin and Calicut. But by then the Arab traders had a stronghold on the route and they staved off any competition until the next aggressive bunch – the Portuguese came in – followed by the Dutch and finally the English who eventually settled down and colonized the lands they came to trade with. But we will not talk about all the events that took place in the process, we will instead focus on the Muziris papyrus, something that you do not see often mentioned in mainstream media. And so we go to the rather active Roman Colony or river port called Pattanam well before the advent of Christ

Tabula PeutingerianaIndo-Scythia.jpg

Image taken from De Tabula Peutingeriana de kaart, Museumstukken II (edited by A.M. Gerhartl-Witteveen and P. Stuart) 1993 Museum Kam, Nijmegan, the Netherlands

2. In what is called a third century map (perhaps a copy of an earlier map) Muziris is shown  prominently by drawing a circle round it. (Taprobane , indicated at the bottom of the map refers to Sri Lanka ). Pliny in his Natural History(6.26) mentioned that if one followed the wind Hippalus , one would reach Muziris in about forty days ( he was referring to the South West monsoon) . He also mentioned that the roadstead for shipping was at a considerable distance from the shore and that the cargoes are to be conveyed in boats, for either loading or discharging. He was indicating that Muziris was not along the coast but situated inland , reachable by a creek or a river. This was confirmed by the later Roman sources according to which “Muziris is located on a river, distant from Tindis – by river and sea, 500 stadia; and by river from the shore, 20 stadia”. Incidentally , Pliny did not recommended alighting at Muziris, as it was infested by pirates .

3. Since the days of Eudoxus, the Greeks and Egyptians established a flourishing trade with Southern India by taking advantage of what they called the Hippalus wind , meaning the South West monsoon winds. (Please see my post” Other Ancient Greeks in India ” for further details).The commodities the Greeks/Egyptians and Romans imported from India were precious gems, aromatics , spices – specially the pepper , besides cotton.

roman trade

4. According to Prof AL Basham (The Wonder That Was India) :

The main requirements of the West were spices, perfumes,jewels and fine textiles, but lesser luxuries, such as sugar, rice and ghee were also exported, as well as ivory, both raw and worked. A finely carved ivory statuette of a goddess oryaksi has been found in the ruins of Herculancum . Indian iron was much esteemed for its purity and hardness, and dye stuffs such as lac and indigo were also in demand. Another requirement was live animals and birds; elephants, lions, tigers and buffaloes were exported from India in appreciable numbers for the wild beast shows of Roman emperors and provincial governors, though these larger beasts went mainly overland through the desert trading city of Palmyra; smaller animals and birds, such as monkeys, parrots and peacocks, found their way to Rome in even larger quantities as pets of wealthy Roman ladies. The Emperor Claudius even succeeded in obtaining from India a specimen of the fabulous phoenix, probably a golden pheasant, one of the loveliest of India’s birds.

In return for her exports India wanted little but gold. Pottery and glassware from the West found their way to India, and many shreds of Arretine and other wares, mass-produced in Western factories, have been found in the remains of a trading station at Arikamedu, near Pondicherry.

As regards the Gemstones , Muzris acted as the collecting and clearing point . The garnets and quartz came from Arikamedu region (on the East coast of south India), the pearls were from Gulf of Mannar , while lapis lazuli beads were from Kodumanal in the neighboring region. The other stones included diamonds, agate, beryls, citrines etc. Please check the following links that carry abundant details on the Gem trade:

There was some demand for wine, and the Western traders also brought tin, lead, coral and slave-girls. But the balance of trade was very unfavorable to the West, and resulted in a serious drain of gold from the Roman Empire. This was recognized by Pliny, who, inveighing against the degenerate habits of his day, computed the annual drain to the East as  lOO million sesterces, “so dearly do we pay for our luxury and our women”.30 The drain of gold to the East was an important cause of the financial difficulties in the Roman Empire from the reign of Nero on wards. Not only gold, but coinage of all types was exported to India; Roman coinage has been found in such quantities in many parts of the Peninsula and Ceylon that it must have circulated there as a regular currency.

[Indian traders were active at both the Indian and the foreign ends of this maritime trade. Archaeological sites on the Red Sea have turned up potsherds with the names of Indians written in Tamil  and in Prakrit. In India, archaeologists have identified the port of Arikamedu  as the site of an ancient southeast Indian port mentioned in The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.

Excavations there revealed Roman pottery, beads, and evidence of wines imported from southern Italy and Greece. Arikamedu seems to have traded with the eastern Mediterranean region from as early as the first century B.C.E.]

There is good evidence that subjects of the Roman Empire, if not actual Romans, settled in India. There is mention of a temple of the Emperor Augustus at Muziris. Early Tamil literature contains several references to the Yavanas, who were employed as bodyguards by Tamil kings, or as engineers, valued for their knowledge of siege craft and the construction of war-engines. While the term Yavana was often used very vaguely, and, from its original meaning of “a Greek”, came to be applied to any Westerner, it is by no means impossible that the Yavanas of South India included fugitives from the Roman legions in their number.

Ptolemy's Geography

Ptolemy’s geography of Asia

Ptolomy's Geographia. Muziris empo-rium

A section of the map of India drawn after Ptolomy’s Geographia, showing Muziris emporium

5. An indication of the importance of Muziris as a place for finalizing business deals by Roman traders was brought to light by L. Casson , a scholar, in his paper” New light on marine loans” .He mentioned about a papyrus (called P. Vindob. G 40822 -for identification purposes ), discovered during the year 1985 in  Vienna , which sets out the details of a maritime loan agreement between a ship owner – possibly of the Hermapollon mentioned on the verso of the papyrus and a merchant using the ship as security. The document  suggests that the loan arrangement was agreed to while the parties were in Muziris (though possibly signed on arrival at the Red Sea), indicating a rather active Roman merchant colony on the Kerala coast


6. The heightened trade between Greece/Egypt and India came as a culmination of the trade relations that existed between India and the West even centuries earlier to Christian era.

7. Historians say Muziris, might be of significance in another way too. They say Christianity may have been introduced to the sub-continent through Muziris.

8. The successful run of the Greek/Egyptian trade with India suffered a temporary setback due to the rise of a new Parthian Empire that formed a sort of barrier between the Greeks and the Indians. However, when Rome  started to absorb the remnants of the Empire of Alexander, Egypt came under the control of Romans. Egypt became a Roman province in 30 B.C. Thereafter, Augustus settled down and took charge of Egypt , as his personal property.

Interestingly , According to Pliny , writing in about 51 AD , the use of monsoon winds to shorten the passage to /from India was made known to the Romans only in the days of Claudius .( Pliny, N. H., 8, 101, 86). This development, therefore, must have come around 51 AD.  There was, therefore, a long period of lull in the Egypt-India trade after 34BC.

9. The Roman trade with India, through Egypt, began in earnestness in the first century AD. Muziris then became an important Romans’ trading centre. The Rome/Egypt/India trade lasted famously until about sixth century.

10. Then suddenly and mysteriously, Muziris went off the radar. It was not mentioned again for a very long time. Dr  Roberta Tomber of British Museum said.

“What is interesting is that in the 6th Century, a Greek writer, writing about the Indian Ocean , wrote that the Malabar coast was still a thriving centre for the export of pepper – but he doesn’t mention Muziris”.

No one has  a clue how Muziris disappeared so completely.

[ Please read Indo-Roman trade by Ajoy Kumar Singh, Janaki Prakashan, 1988]

Roman coins

Regarding the trade in South India, Prof. Hermann Kulke and Prof. Dietmar Rothermund in their A History of India (Rutledge, London, Third Edition 1998-) write:

In the area around Coimbatore, through which the trade route from the Malabar Coast led into the interior of South India and on to the east coast, eleven rich hoards of gold and silver Roman coins of the first century AD were found. Perhaps they were the savings of pepper planters and merchants or the loot of highwaymen who may have made this important trade route their special target.

It also indicates that the South Indian ports served as entrepôts for silk from China, oil from the Gangetic plains which were brought by Indian traders all the way to the tip of South India, and also for precious stones from Southeast Asia. But, as far as the Eastern trade was concerned, the Coromandel Coast to the south of present Madras soon eclipsed the Malabar Coast. To the north of Cape Comorin (Kanya Kumari) there was the kingdom of the Pandyas where prisoners were made to dive for precious pearls in the ocean. Still further north there was a region called Argaru which was perhaps the early Chola kingdom with its capital, Uraiyur. The important ports of this coast were Kamara (Karikal), Poduka (Pondichery) and Sopatma (Supatama) (see Map 5). Many centuries later European trading factories were put up near these places: the Danes established Tranquebar near Karikal, the French Pondicherry, and the British opted for Madras which was close to Supatama


1.BBC News in its edition of 11 June 2006 , reported an archaeological investigation by two archaeologists – KP Shajan and V Selvakumar – has placed the ancient port as having existed where the small town of Pattanam now stands, on India’s south-west Malabar coast. The team believes Pattanam as the place where Muziris once stood. Until recently, the best guesses for the location of Muziris centred on the mouth of the Periyar  River , at a place called Kodungallor – but now the evidence suggests that Pattanam is the real location of Muziris.

2. Pattanam is a small town some 12 km south of the Periyar river mouth (present day Kodungallur) , in Kerala state. The artefacts recovered from the excavation site include amphora (holding vessels) of Roman make and Yemenis, Mesopotamian, and West Asian ones too, indicating that Pattanam had trade not only with Rome but also with places in the Persian Gulf . The other artefacts recovered include pottery shards, beads, Roman copper coins and ancient wine bottles.

3.There is no doubt that Pattanam was a major port and was important to the Indo-Roman trade But more collaborative evidence is needed to support the view that Pattanam was indeed Muziris.

4. The remote sensing data revealed that a river close to Pattanam had changed its course .The port may have been buried due to earthquakes or floods. This may perhaps explain the disappearance of the Muziris port. However, there are no definite answers yet.

5. Interestingly, while the excavations at Muziris are on, another set of archaeologists from UCLA and University of Delaware have excavated Berenike, a long-abandoned Egyptian port on the Red Sea near the border with Sudan . The team has uncovered the largest array of ancient Indian goods ever found along the Red Sea , including the largest single cache of black pepper from antiquity – 16 pounds – ever excavated in the former Roman Empire .

Dr. Willeke Wendrich, an archaeologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the research showed that themaritime trade route between India and Egypt in antiquity appeared to be even more productive and lasted longer than scholars had thought.

In addition, it was not an overwhelmingly Roman enterprise, as had been generally assumed. The researchers said artefacts at the site indicated that the ships might have been built in India and were probably crewed by Indians.

These again confirm the trade relations that existed between ancient Egypt and India

coins of Roman empire


Posted by on September 1, 2012 in History


Tags: , ,

Sindhu- Hindu- India


In paragraph, two of my post “Greece and India before Alexander” I mentioned about the origin of the word India. Please click here.

2. Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor. In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today call as India is named as Hapta Hendu,   the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah – the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well.

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian term Hindu became the Greek Indos/(plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia .

With reference to the above, I received a message, from someone who read the post, saying that the word is a corruption of a corruption and India owes much to outsiders.

I have thought about the remark and this is what I have to say.

It is a fact that the word ” India ” is of foreign origin but this does not mean ,the very idea of an Indian nation is a contribution by outsiders.

There are many countries, as I know, bearing names of foreign origin. This is because of historical reasons. This does not in any way take away the identity of those nations or the nationalities of their people. These nations continue to bear the names given to them, with pride, and function as the honoured members of the International community. Let me cite a few examples.

  • France: The French are descendants of the ancient Gaulish people, who spoke languages that belonged to the Celtic family. The Gauls were conquered by Rome; and when Rome itself was taken over by Germanic people, the Gaul came under the influence of the Germanic Franks. The Franks gave their name to the country and called it France. Now, France has a language that had its origin in Latin and the people of France, largely, are of Celtic race. However, no one can sanely argue that French nation   owes its existence to Germany.
  • Germany: The word Germany   is of Latin origin and the Germans call their nation “Deutschland”. Hardly any non-Germans use this name. Germany is also known as Allemagne (after the name of a Germanic tribe). The Arabs and Iranians use this word.
  • Great Britain: Bulk of the British population speaks English, a Germanic language. However, the name “Britannia” celebrated in songs and legend by English poets is a Celtic name.
  • Basques: The French popularized the term ‘Basque’, but the Basques call themselves Euskera.
  • Similarly, America is named after an Italian. Spain takes its name from a Carthaginian word for “rabbit”.
  • I think Finland and a few East European countries like Armenia , Georgia also have their names derived from languages foreign to them. (I am not very certain about the exact details in these cases).

There may be number of other countries, that I may not be aware of, bearing names that either were derived from a foreign language or were given to them by outsiders.

The substance of my argument is, a nation’s identity does not depend merely on the name by which it is called. What matters is whether that single term can adequately capture its  ‘identity’. The term itself can be native or foreign.

Similarly, in the case of India too the terms ‘India/Hindu/Indus’ may not be of Indian origin. That alone does not mean, India has no culture of its own or the notion of India does not exist or that India owes its existence to outsiders etc.

No matter how the name India originated, India is a well-defined nation having a history, culture and identity of its own, like any other nation in the International community.


After posting the blog I came across a wonderful web site that says most countries of the world have different names in different languages and that some countries have also undergone name changes for political or other reasons.

This web page gives all known alternative names for all nations, countries and sovereign states. Try this link .It is really good.


Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor . In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today call as India is named as Hapta Hendu,   the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah – the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well.

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian termHindu became the Greek Indos/ (plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia.

This view is supported by the observations made by the Supreme Court of India .

The Supreme Court of India while dealing with the case  “Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal” in the matter of the Ramakrishna Mission’s petition to be declared a non-Hindu, minority religion under the Indian constitution, discussed the term Hindu and also identified Seven Defining Characteristics of Hinduism. The petition was denied. The court determined that the RK Mission is Hindu and there is no religion of “Ramakrishnaism” as claimed by them.

(For full text of the ruling please see )


Generally, one is understood to be a Hindu by being born into a Hindu family and practicing the faith, or by declaring oneself a Hindu.


There is also a judicial definition of Hinduism.

The following are the observations of the Supreme Court of India while dealing with the term Hindu:


(27). Who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion, that must be the first part of our inquiry in dealing with the present controversy between the parties. The historical and etymological genesis of `the word `Hindu’ has given rise to a controversy amongst indo-logists; but the view generally accepted by scholars appears to be that the word “Hindu” is derived form the river Sindhu otherwise known as Indus which flows from the Punjab. `That part of the great Aryan race”, says Monier Williams, which immigrated from Central Asia , through the mountain passes into India , settled first in the districts near the river Sindhu (now called theIndus ). The Persian pronounced this word Hindu and named their Aryan brother Hindus. The Greeks, who probably gained their first ideas of India Persians, dropped the hard aspirate, and called the Hindus `Indoi’.

 (28). The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VI, has described `Hinduism’ as the title applied to that form of religion which prevails among the vast majority of the present population of the Indian Empire (p.686). As Dr. Radhakrishan has observed: `The Hindu civilization is so called, since it original founders or earliest followers occupied the territory drained by the Sindhu (the Indus ) river system corresponding to the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab . This is recorded in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures which give their name to this period of the Indian history. The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindu by the Persian and the later western invaders [The Hindu View of Life by Dr. Radhakrishnan, p.12]. That is the genesis of the word `Hindu’.


The Supreme Court of India discussed in detail the nature of Hinduism, citing several references and authorities. While laying down the characteristics of Hinduism, This is what the Hon. Court observed:

Features of Hindu religion recognized by this Court in Shastri Yaganapurushdasji (supra) as coming within its broad sweep are these:

(i) Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.

(ii) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that truth was many-sided.

(iii) Acceptance of great world rhythm, vast period of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession, by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.

(iv) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.

(v) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.

(vi) Realization of the truth that Gods to be worshipped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshipping of idols.

(vii) Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.



 Hinduism is a way of life.Some consider Sanatana Dharma (The Eternal Way) to be a better nomenclature as it represents those spiritual principles that are eternally true; in this sense it represents the science of consciouness. Hinduism is unique among religions in neither being polytheistic or monotheistic, but one with a universal vision.Dr. Radhakrishnan calls Hinduism a movement not a position; a process not a result; a growing tradition not a fixed relevation . There is therefore always a possibility of further development.The indian way is a process of balanced growth.It is a balance between tradition and change.

This does not mean that Hinduism has neither form nor certainty. Far from that; it is a vibrent, dynamic , living faith which has an ethos of its own.

Hinduism is neither fanatical nor undefined , as J commented.

I agree with V V Raman that those who “contrive spurious history to add even greater glory to their past” be they Western or Indian deserve to be condemned.


As regards ITS, the book has served a purpose. It has given a wake up call.

It is an important step but only the first step.

They have left it to the enterprise of individuals, families and social groups to devise appropriate methods to preserve and propagate true versions of our history, culture and religion. We therefore have a task on our hands. The least we can do is to have wider public debate in all the forms of media, social groups and academia. If there is no wider debate on the major concerns of the book then its aspiration remains largely unfulfilled.

There is a mistaken belief that anyone who speaks of Hinduism is a fundamentalist. The apathy of the “secular minded” to join the debate is on the belief that it relates to religion. But the fact is the debate aroused by ITS touches the more fundamental aspects of our being such as our identity, valuing our culture and its preservation and above all, it about self esteem. Discussions and arguments are critically important to carry forward the agenda of the ITS.

I find no mention, reference let alone debate about the book in the print or electronic media in India .The reach of its appeal is presently limited to a few blog sites; and within those sites confined to a couple of small groups. Even here, I cannot help feeling that the discussions have been rather patchy.  They are highly repetitive, highlighting often repeated quotes from the book. Hardly any thought was expressed about what we need to do next? How do we carry forward the agenda? In addition, we have the points made out by Mr. Raman. The discussions did not also take into account the “Purva Paksha”.

The writings by some westerns cited in ITS is a symptom. The malady goes much deeper and has its roots in India ; in its schools, textbooks, Research organizations, Universities and in the “safe” set of historians patronized by the Govt.

It therefore  takes  a much greater effort and dedication to effectively deal with the issue in a holistic fashion and to find credible answers to questions gnawing at the root of our cultural identity,” What do we tell and how we tell our children, who we are?”. A well thought out long term strategy involving various segments of the academia, the Research Organizations, the Government and intellectuals looks inevitable. There are no quick fixes here. We have to have a road map or a vision.

The efforts at home to preserve the culture need to be supplemented supported and nurtured by organized exercises at schools, Universities, Research organizations and social groups. It would be a blessing if the best of our young minds take up and pursue studies in our History and culture. Because it is here our perceptions of History, culture and religion get defined, acquire a broader appeal and get propagated. It is here that myth and “nonsense” as Raman said, gets weeded out .The important break through, if any, should logically appear in the organized sector. The families can protect and nurture the values. But they need a space to grow in the outer world. Else, our young ones will live in a zone of confusing and conflicting identities.

While on the subject of Hinduism in Universities, I wish to reproduce a passage from Mark Tully’s book India’s unending journey, which makes a significant observation on  teaching of Hinduism in western universities :”( Hinduism) is not usually taught in the departments of philosophy , but in the departments of religion-which invariably gives the impression that it is indeed irrational- or in the departments concerned with studying India as an area , which gives the impression it is peculiarly Indian and so irrelevant to western thinking…. Indian philosophers haven’t helped to improve matters, as many of them spend their time trying to identify the points at which their philosophy meets western philosophy rather than promoting an understanding on its own terms.”


Such being the case, how do we spur the young bright minds to pursue studies in History and culture?

Addressing these questions, sanely, is not an easy task. The debate is likely to generate more heat than light. We have the “secular “experts who equate everything Indian with Hindu and shoot it down. We have also the exhilarated ones who over adulate everything Hindu and ancient. While the Establishment will predictably be cautious and timid. Can we strike a Golden Mean? How do we project our History in the best light in a balanced manner?

Any further debate on ITS would be purposeful only in case it addresses issues concerning : carrying forward the agenda; re structuring the way Indian History, culture and religion is written , taught and studied at the advanced levels; and how the cultural values are preserved and nurtured in our homes.

In any case, the least we can do is to initiate spread of awareness, broaden the debate and carry it forward in  forums like these , in social/informal groups and toenlarge the debate over a broader community.

Please also see the Comments received from Mr. Raman and Mr. de Nicolas

Message received from VV

Dear Dr. Rao:

Thank you for your insightful comments.

Here are some thoughts on some of them.

1. Hindu’s wouldn’t really care to just “follow” some “vision” laid out by the Book team.

Well said. However, having recognized and exposed in detail a problem, it does not hurt to suggest some positive solutions.

Fair enough, that was not the intent of the book. So, now perhaps it is time to discuss these.

Then again, it is important to discuss two quite different, though in some ways interrelated questions:

(a) How do we change the negative perceptions and portrayals (intended or not) of Hinduism in the Western world?

(b) How do we enrich, enhance, and create more positive understandings and more enlightened practices of Hinduism within the Hindu world, both in India and beyond?

2. Absolutely. You may recall what I said in my reflections on the book: “Unfortunately, those who speak for the tradition are sometimes caricatured as mindless fundamentalists wearing trousers instead of saffron robes, and skeptical non-traditionalists are sometimes looked upon as unwitting agents of the colonizers, pathetic victims of Thomas Babington Macaulay, by their respective ideological adversaries. Mutual name-calling only hurts the larger cause.”

3This is an extremely important point, and needs to be fully analyzed. It is a fact, for the good or for the bad, that Hindu culture – like the Islamic – is still intricately intertwined with religion, as used to be the case in the West also. The decoupling of culture and religion began in the West only in the 18th century, with some very positive and some very negative consequences.

4. But, the fact is the debate aroused by ITS touches the more fundamental aspects of our being such as our identity, valuing our culture and its preservation and above all, it about self esteem.>

Very good point. But it is important to realize that the whole book is  in the context of Hinduism as written about by a handful of Western scholars, which is very relevant and important no doubt. But the book can also serve to provoke greater self-examination among thoughtful Hindus, ignoring Western perceptions of what we may or may not be.

5Excellent point. Just what I said above.

6. As to Mark Tully’s observation, “( Hinduism) is not usually taught in the departments of philosophy , but in the departments of religion-which invariably gives the impression that it is indeed irrational-…”

Hinduism IS a religion, so there is nothing wrong in this. But it need not give the impression of being Any religion CAN be taught without making it seem irrational.

7. < Such being the case, how do we spur the young bright minds to pursue studies in Indian philosophy, History and culture?>

 It seems to me that in the modern world (i.e. if the young are subjected to courses on science and mathematics, history and literature), this can only be done if and when culture, history, and philosophy are secularized, i.e. decoupled from religion. This is not to say that we should neglect or abandon our religion. But religion (as most Hindu sages knew) is an experiential aspect of being fully human. It is not for analytical inquiry and rational dissection. Meditation is different from metaphysics. Reciting the Gita is different from analyzing it. Engrossed in divine music (bhajans) is different from taking the puranas literally.

Unless we study the Vedas as poetry, the Upanishads as philosophy, and grand epics as literature, we cannot make them relevant, meaningful, and enriching to modern minds.

This is the challenge.

V. V. Raman

July 21, 2007


Great the end of your comment. It is a  shame philosophy
departments do not hold Hindu texts…I was one of the few able and
willing to teach in the Philosophy Department at Stony Brook and my
many books are philosophical. Very different from what is offered in
Religious studies. Prof, Raman, bring the discourse through
philosophical search.
Antonio de Nicolas

July 20, 2007

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your response .As you mentioned, tagging or assigning a name to this religion or the way of life is an elusive exercise. The name Hinduism coined as an operative term points at a much larger entity but does not exactly stand for it. The earlier names “Brahmanism” or “Vedic religion” might have served a similar purpose. Megastenese though mentions Brahmins and Sramanas does not mention the name of any religion.

I sometimes wonder whether even in the distant past it ever had a specific name or  did it needed one, perhaps because of the absence of a rival .It is also plausible that “Vedic religion” was a branch of a “ mother religion” , if there was one.

Buddha does not name, refer to or attack the religion of the day though he criticizes the Brahmanic attitude, the rituals and discourages ungainly speculations.

He sometimes refers to his disciples by their sect as Brahmins or Kshatrias. He addresses some of them by their Gotra like Vaccha (Vatsa), Kaashyapa, and Maudgalya etc. Some of the disciples address the Buddha by his Gotra-Gautama.

Buddhism did not start as a religion. The Buddha intended to offer true interpretations of the Dharma. (That perhaps was how the religion of the day was named.) It started as a free-thinkers- moment that attracted the seekers and the lay intellectuals, in much the same way as the Ramakrishna moment did at a much later time. During the Buddha’s time it was not a religion yet; the rituals related to births, deaths and weddings were presided over by the Brahmin priests. The Buddhist rituals and practices (vinaya) were collated from the teachings and the incidents in the Buddha’s life at a much later time, after his death.

What set apart the Buddhism and other school of thought (like Charukavas et al) from the main stream of the day was their stand on the relevance and on the authority of the Vedas.

It was this factor, again, that largely guided the Supreme Court of India in listing some criteria for Hinduism while handing down the ruling in Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengal case, which I reffered to in my earlier mail.While drawing up the criteria for indetifyong Hinduism the Court relied heavily on the views of Swami Vivekananda and Dr. Radhakrishnan that stressed tolerance, universality and a search for a fundamental unity as the virtues of Hinduism. It also reliedon B.G. Tilak’s view: “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion.”Even in the earlier case (Yagnapurushdasji)the “acceptance of the Vedas” was a key element in the court’s decision.

Incidentally the Seventh in the list pf criteria leaves me a little perplexed. It reads ”Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such”. This in a way sums up the position but at the same time appears to knock down the earlier six criteria.

Perhaps it is because of this view ( of not being tied down to any definite set of concepts)  that many say “The term ‘ism’ refers to an ideology that is to be propagated and by any method imposed on others for e.g. Marxism, socialism, communism, imperialism and capitalism but the Hindus have no such ‘ism’. Hindus follow the continuum process of evolution; for the Hindus do not have any unidirectional ideology, therefore, in Hindu Dharma there is no place for any ‘ism’”


In any case Hinduism is now a nomenclature for the religious tradition of Indiaand the suffix is hardly noticed. Not many have qualms in accepting “Hinduism”.

The criteria drawn up in the Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengalcase is a working rule evolved for a limited purpose. It cannot be construed as thedefinetion of Hinduism . Because Hinduism is described on variious occations depending on the context.Each time a “ context- sensitive” interpretation  has been put forth. For instance:

In the Indian Constitution, Explanation II appended to Article 25 says that the “reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion”

The Hindu Code Bill (which comprises four different Acts), too, takes an undifferentiated view of Hinduism: it includes anyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew under ‘Hindu’ as a legal category.

Any reform movements, including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, were seen as merely different sects within Hinduism.


There are legal pronouncements that Hindus are Indian citizens belonging to a religion born in India. This means Buddhists, Sikhs or Parsis, even those who did not recognize themselves as Hindus, are to be considered Hindus.

 The Supreme Court of Indiadealt with the meaning of the word ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ when used in election propaganda. The court came to the conclusion that the words ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the People of India depicting the way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as a faith. This clearly means that, by itself, the word ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ indicates the culture of the people of Indiaas a whole, irrespective of whether they are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Jews etc.”

Here, the term somehow traveled a full circle and came back to Radhakrishnan’s view” ‘Hindu’ had originally a territorial and not creedal significance. It implies residence in a well-defined geographical area.”

All definitions so far have been “context -sensitive” (Ramanujan).

Coming back to the Buddha and Sri Ramakrishna, before I end, there is a remarkable similarity between the two greatest of men. Both spoke from experience. Both placed ones experience above scriptural authority and other modes of cognition. Both had a remarkably sane and expansive view of the religious experience. Both interpreted the existing Dharma in its true light and both did not intend to start a new religion or an Order. In both cases the disciples came to them in search of enlightenment and it was at their initiative the Sangha or the Missioncame into being. The life and teachings of both were recorded and propagated by their disciples in a remarkably similar manner. Neither master authored a book or a treatise.

 The reason Buddhism gained a wider reach and appeal was because of the Royal patronage it received in its formative years and the manner it spread among the populace. The disciples of Sri Ramakrishna largely came from the urban educated middle class. Their Missions were located in cities and the Master’s message was conveyed mainly through books addressed to the educated. The Ramakrishna Mission somehow came to be associated with the elite, at least out side of Bengal, though Sri Ramakrishna was a simple, lovable person accessible to all and came from a rural background. It took a while for the Sri Ramakrishna to become known in the rural parts out side Bengal.


 Buddha directed his disciples to teach “for the welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world,” and this his disciples did. Early Buddhist evangelism usually consisted of a pair of monks entering a village, going from house to house with their begging bowls until they had enough for the one meal they ate for the day. The monks would then return to the outskirts of the town, where they would often be followed by those who had been impressed by their demeanor and wished to talk with them. The monks would share what they knew, then move on to the next village. Most of the monks hailed from far flung rural areas. The rapid growth of Buddhism probably had much to do with the way the monks closely lived with the people and tended to their spiritual needs.

It is a privilege conversing with you.

Thank you for the response



Posted by on September 1, 2012 in General Interest, History


Tags: , ,

Some Other Ancient Greeks in India


The exploits of Alexander the Great in India and the deeds of the other famous Greeks that followed him are well known. Among those famous Greeks who traveled to India , there were Kings, Generals, Diplomats, Philosophers, Historians and a whole tribe of soldiers. Many of whom have written about India and their life in India .
1.1 Apart from these, some other ancient Greeks traveled to India either as individuals or in small groups. They were mostly sailors and explorers. Some of them took the land route while many others sailed to India . The principal interest of their travel was not conquest but trade. Only a small number of these explorers have left behind a record of their travels detailing, among other things, the sea route they took, ports they sailed into, the commodities they traded and their impression of the strange country, its strange people, their customs etc. However, in most other cases the details have come down to us indirectly, through the writings of historians who gathered tales from sailors, merchants etc. who might have accompanied the voyages; or from other sources that are not now extant. The life and work of, what we may call, these other ancient Greeks is not common knowledge, except in History circles. Let us look at a few of them.
2. Before going into that, a mention has to be made of two other ancient Greeks-Skylax of Karyanda in Karia and Pyrrhon the Skeptic- both of whom do not fall in the above category.
2.1 Skylax :
Skylax, the first Greek to set foot in India, lived before Herodotus, who tells that the Persian Emperor Darius Hystargus (512–486) led a naval expedition to prove the feasibility of a sea passage from the mouth of Indus to Persia . Under the command of Skylax, a fleet sailed from Punjab in the Gandhara country to the Ocean. Continuing, Skylax followed the coast and explored the gulf of Oman and the south-eastern side of the Arabic Peninsula . In thirty months, he circumnavigated  Saudi Arabia and reached  Mediterranean through the channels of Nile and Isthmus of Suez . Skylax later wrote a book of geography titled Indika apparently a report of his expedition that set out to follow the Indus from its headwaters to its mouth.
(Source: J.W.Sedler – India and Greek world)

2.2 . Pyrrhon of Elis (365-275 B. C.)

Pyrrhon is one of the earliest Greek philosophers likely to have had a direct contact with India . According to Diogenes Laertios (second cent. A. D.) , the ancient historian of philosophy, Pyrrhon was at first a painter and his works were seen in the gymnasium at Elis . Later Pyrrho took to philosophy influenced by the works of Democritus(c.400BC). He studied philosophy with a teacher of the school of Megara (Magerian dialectics) and then with Anaxarchus (340BC), the pupil of Democritus.

2.2.1. Pyrrhon was one of the philosophers who traveled with Alexander the Great on his expedition to India . He apparently met some Indian philosophers during his stay in India . His experiences in India may have had some effect on him because on his return to India he preferred to live in solitude and in poverty. Yet, he was highly honoured by the Elians and the Athenians, who conferred upon him the rights of citizenship. He did not put his ideas into writing. His ideas have survived only through fragmentary citations in later authors and mainly through the writings of his pupil Timon of Philus. Timon admired his teacher for his modesty and his tranquil way of life.

Pyrrhon is regarded the first skeptic philosopher and the inspiration for a school of thought known as Pyrrhonism founded by Aenesidemus(of third skeptic school) in first century B.C.
(Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition)


The 3rd century B. C. has been rather kind to historians. A good number of reports of Greeks who traveled to India during this period have come down to us, as compared to the later periods. During this period, the rulers of Persia and Greece sent their emissaries to India . It is said, an officer named Petrokles (c.280 BC) visited India and returned with some useful geographic information. However, nothing much is known about Petrokles.

3.1. Pliny, the historian, in his Naturalis Historia VI 36 mentions Patrokles. He attributes the statement, that the Caspian Sea is as long as the Black sea to Patrokles. He also mentions that Aristobulus [who accompanied Alexander the Great] stated that the Oxus is easy to navigate and that large quantities of Indian merchandise are conveyed by it to the Hyrcanian [Caspian] Sea and then transferred into Albania by the Cyrus and through the adjoining countries to the Euxine [Black Sea]. Pliny, then, adds a remark to the effect that Aristobulus and Eratosthenes -(276-194BC- the Greek mathematician known to have calculated the Earth’s circumference and to have drawn the map of the world) – borrowed this idea from Patrokles. This is Eratosthenes’s map. India is on your right hand side.
3.2. Patrokles’s name appears four times in the fragments of Megasthenes’s Indika. On all those occasions, it was in connection with measuring the size of India , the length (breadth?) of India and distance of places in India from the south sea. Patrokles, on each occasion differs from the measurements calculated by Megasthenes, Eratosthenes and by Deimachos (envoy to the court of king Bindusara).  Hipparchos (the Greek astronomer who drew up the first catalog of the stars) remarks that two competent authorities’ viz. Deimachos and Megasthenes opposed Patrokles; and that even Eratosthenes discredited the calculations of Patrokles.
3.3. Evidently, Patrokles along with Eratosthenes and Hipparchos visited India and he had some knowledge of India . All these were highly eminent persons. Obviously, the Greeks, in those times, valued their relation with India .

(Source :


4.Eudoxos of Kyzikos (Eudoxus of Cyzicus ) :

The later half of the first century and the period thereafter in the second century BC did not witness frequent contacts between India and the Greek world because the land route was blocked by the Parthian empire (successor to the Seleukids). As regards the sea route via the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean , the sea captains had not yet learned to utilize the monsoon trade winds and had forgotten the route found by Skylax. There was, however, some improvement in the traffic following the movement of the Bacterian kings into the Indus valley. This rendered the land route less dangerous.


4.1. The beginning of the second century saw an upsurge in the sea travel between Egypt and India . This continued until the third century. It all began with the voyage undertaken by one Eudoxos of Kyzikos

4.2. By all accounts, Eudoxos of Kyzikos was a remarkable person. He was a highly cultured sea captain who was described as a geographer, fighter, diplomat and intrepid trader and one who explored uncharted lands beyond the Mediterranean . He left behind the story of his expedition from Egypt to India . He is the hero of popular novels and films.

4.3. Eudoxus (c.130BC) was born in Cyzicus an ancient town of Mysia in Asia Minor , situated on the shore side of the present peninsula of Kapu-Dagh (Arctonnesus). Nothing much is known about Eudoxus’early life. There are some references to his unhappy married life and to a series of voyages across the Indian Ocean seeking wealth for his family shipping concerns.

4.4. According to Strabo (64BC to 24 AD -a Greek historian), quoting Posidonius (135BC to 51 BC -a Greek philosopher and historian), while Eudoxus was in Alexandria , he met a nearly dead shipwrecked Indian rescued from the Red Sea shore. After the seaman recovered and learnt a smattering of Greek, he informed that he was the sole survivor of a ship that sailed from India . Eudoxus was exited with this piece of news and thereafter convinced the Egyptian king Ptolemy VIII (Physkon) to sponsor an expedition to India , with the rescued Indian seaman as the guide. Eudoxus set sail in 118 BC from Berenice Harbor with the Indian as the guide. The voyage after having reached Muzuris in South India , Kerala , located below Calicut , returned to Egypt after 70 days. Eudoxus returned with a rich cargo of precious stones and aromatics. Ptolemy VIII promptly confiscated the cargo. Ptolemy VIII, not long after, died in 116BC; bequeathing Kyrenaika to his illegitimate son Ptolemy Apion and Egypt to Kleopatra III’s son with herself acting as the regent.

4.5. Posidonius recounts that the second voyage of Eudoxus to India came about in 116 BC at the command of Kleopatra III because she was desirous of procuring more precious gems and perfumes from India . The second voyage was, however, not as smooth as the first one. On his return voyage, Eudoxus was blown off-course and stranded on a shore below Ethiopia (perhaps below Cape Guardafui , Somalia ). After a series of misadventures, Eudoxus finally returned, with his precious cargo, to Egypt in around 114 BC. By which time Ptolemy IX had become the pharaoh. Yet again Eudoxus met with the same fate when the Pharoah Ptolemy IX confiscated the cargo just as his father did earlier.

4.6. What followed thereafter was a most wonderful adventure story. Eudoxus intending to embark on a third voyage to India by circumnavigating Africa ( Alexandria ) built a big ship. As a true showman, he gave wide publicity to the voyage, put music girls on board along with physicians and artisans, and set sail to India in great style. Because of a number of mishaps on the way, Eudoxus abandoned the voyage to India and eventually landed in Cadiz in what is now Spain . Strabo remarks that Eudoxus was always attended by good fortune.

4.7. Long after Eudoxus voyage Ptolemy XII (80 to 51 BC) created a special post titledCommander of the Red and Indian Seas to organize and encourage trade with India . The best-known occupant of this office was Callimachus the epistrategos, who was the Commander between 78 BC and 51 BC.

4.8. Pliny complained that the Indian luxury trade was depleting the Roman treasury to the extent of 50 million sesterces annually. The Roman Senate even contemplated banning the use of Indian cotton in the clothing Toga that Roman citizens wore, because it was too expensive to import. Evidently, the trade with India was flourishing.

Incidentally, the captain of Eudoxus of Cyzicus’ship that sailed to India , according to some, was Hippalus. Who was this Hippalus?Was he real?

(Sources:*.html#3.4 )


5. Hippalus : 


The contents of the book titled Periplous of the Erythraean Sea (“Circumnavigation of the Erythrean i.e., Red Sea”), written in around 75 to 90 AD by an unknown author presumed to be a Greek merchant sailor, indicates, the author had access to first-hand information about the ports in western India .The book mentions a series of ports along the Indian coast, including Muziris (Pattanam?), Colchi (Kochi?), Poduca, and Sopatma.  The book is narrated on a navigation itinerary basis, stopping at every point (a ‘port of call’) to enumerate merchandises, details about the local routes of trade, information about the natural environment, the political establishment, and the cultural and religious affairs and/or traits of the port in question. According to M.S. Megalommatis, a scholar, judging by the language of the text one could say Greek was not the mother tongue of the author. Most probably, he was an Alexandrian Egyptian captain and merchant who voyaged these seas and had intimate knowledge of the areas mentioned in the text.

5.1.The book also records the accomplishment of a certain Hippalus who, it says, understood the patterns of the Indian monsoons and discovered a sea-route from the Red Sea to Southern India . The book also makes a special references the port of Kodanganallur (anglicised to Cranganore, and also known as Muziris or Shinkli), in present day Kerala on India ‘s West coast. Pliny refers to this port as primum emporium Indiae.

5.2. There are two issues concerning Hippalus that are debated (a) the Sea route from the Red Sea to the Indian ports were  already known to the earlier Greeks. Hippalus did not discover them; and (b) Hippalus was not a real person and that the term was coined to represent a system of trade winds or to the sea/sea route.

5.3.As regards the first issue, we know that Skylax as far back as in fifth century BC traced a sea route to and out of the Red Sea . Further, as recorded in Arrian’s Indica ( 21, 1)Nearchus, a Macedonian General and a friend of Alexander, commanded a fleet to carry the men back from India to Persia and Mesopotamia . It is said, he was the first to realize the importance of the monsoon winds for sailing in that region, he, therefore waited for the commencement of the northeast monsoon to begin the voyage from India .After his conquest, Alexander sent out voyages of exploration to Arabia and the Caspian Sea but he died soon thereafter. (Apart from this ,the Arabians and Indians must, of course, have known and made use of the monsoon winds for centuries.)


Perhaps, because these events were too far back in time, they were either forgotten or lost in antiquity.


5.4. The other issue, which questions the existence of Hippalus, is a little more debatable. To start with, Pliny (79AD) does not mention him ; and in Ptolemy (c.168AD), Hippalus is the name of a sea. The French historian Andre Tchernia explains that Pliniy’s contention was because in the earlier times, the name of the wind was written as Hypalus and it was only in the Roman times the spelling Hippalus came into use . Some historians, therefore, wonder if Hippalus were to be a real person, then it is strange that his exploits were hardly known to the succeeding generations

5.5. Regardless of the view one might take on the above issue, the fact is that after the first century there was an upsurge in the sea traffic between Greece/Egypt and India . This was mainly on account of the drastic reduction in the time and the risks involved in sailing to India .The sailors setting out of Egypt ,now, went from the Red Sea to India over open sea , instead of hugging to the African coast as had been the practice till then. This made it possible to sail confidently for days without sight of land. The new route was shorter and free from the Arabian pirates. The Greek sailors also introduced a new shipping calendar and planned their voyages accordingly. These practices soon turned the Egypt-India sector into a major sea route and the Greek merchants sailed further crossing the Bay of Bengal on to the Southeast Asia region. Naturally, the trade between Egypt and Southern India flourished during this period. “Previously, not twenty vessels … dared to peep outside the straits…but now, great fleets are sent as far as India and the extremities of Aethiopia, from which the most valuable cargoes are brought to Egypt and thence sent forth again to other regions.’ ; so runs Strobes oft-quoted remark (Strabo, 17.1.13. [798]). Emperor Tiberius (42BC to 16AD), was however concerned over Rome ‘s increasingly adverse balance of payments. He complained, “The ladies and their baubles are transferring our money to foreigners”.
5.6. The key to this success story was the Greeks’ coming to understand the phenomenon of monsoon, the Indian monsoon. What is this monsoon? Let us see.
Monsoon is an anglicized form of Mausum, an Arabic/Hindi term meaning weather or season. It is specially refers to the heavy rainy season that commences in June, dies away in September, each year, and is very vital to the climate, the economy and to the life on Indian subcontinent.
The south-west monsoon is born off the Madagascar coast to Somalia due to a high-pressure area .The wind direction at this point is south easterly. The moisture-laden winds from this high-pressure area around Madagascar travel northwards to Somalia . As soon as they cross the equator, south-easterlies turn right to assume a south-westerly direction.
It is in Somalia that south-west monsoon assumes its true character. It becomes a jet stream by May. That jet drives the south-west monsoon from Somalia to India . The Jet streams are relatively strong winds concentrated within a narrow stream in the atmosphere. The Somali jet-stream helps the south-west monsoon gain force and hence it hits the Indian subcontinent with great force
5.6.1. The two key ingredients needed to create a successful monsoon in India are a hot land mass and a cooler ocean. In India , for instance, the landmass of the Great Thar Desert , the adjoining areas of north and central India , in addition to the Deccan plateau absorb much heat from the sun during the summer months; while the temperatures over the Indian Occasion remain comparatively lower.
[Prof. A L Basham , in his “The Wonder That was India ” gives a graphic description of Indian Monsoon:
The most important feature of the Indian climate is the monsoon, or “the Rains Except along the west coast and in parts of Ceylon rain rarely falls from October to May, when cultivation can only be carried on by carefully husbanding the water of rivers and streams, and raising a winter crop by irrigation. By the end of April growth has practically ceased. The temperature of the plains rises as high as 1lO° F. or over, and an intensely hot wind blows. Trees shed their leaves, grass is almost completely parched, wild animals often die in large numbers for want of water. Work is reduced to a minimum, and the world seems asleep.
Then clouds appear, high in the sky; in a few days they grow more numerous and darker, rolling up in banks from the sea. At last, in June, the rains come in great down pouring torrents, with much thunder and lightning. The temperature quickly drops, and within a few days the world is green and smiling again. Beasts, birds and insects reappear, the trees put on new leaves, and the earth is covered with fresh grass. The torrential rains, which fall at intervals for a couple of months and then gradually die away, make travel and all outdoor activity difficult,and often bring epidemics in their wake; but, despite these hardships, to the Indian mind the coming of the monsoon corresponds to the coming of spring in Europe. For this reason thunder and lightning, in Europe generally looked on as inauspicious, have no terrors for the Indian, but are welcome signs of the goodness of heaven]

Since the Indian Ocean is bound on the north by a large land mass, the effects of “differential heating” are intense. The air mass over the subcontinent, consequently, heats up, expands, and rises up in to the air. This causes a low-pressure area over the northern and central Indian subcontinent. To fill up this void, the cooler, heavier and moisture-laden winds from the Indian Ocean rush on to the subcontinent. The damp, chilly layer that hangs Over India will be as thick as three miles.

As the cool air arrives, the winds also shift. During the dry season, the winds blow offshore – from land to sea. Then, as the monsoon begins, the winds blow onshore – from sea to land. This phenomenon perhaps explains why the early Arabs named the monsoon “Mausin,” or “the season of winds.” The southwest Monsoon generally begins around the middle of June and lasts until September.



5.7. The real impotence of this phenomenon to the Greek/Egyptian sailors was that in the Indian winters the winds blow from the Sea on to the subcontinent; While in the Indian dry season, the winds reverse and blow from land to the sea. The Greeks could, therefore, sail into India during the Indian winter and sail back to Egypt during the Indian summer; thus taking advantage of favorable winds  on both occasions .This rendered the sea crossing a lot easier and faster than before. It is said, Hippalus set out in August sailing into the wide Arabian Sea directly towards the Malabar Coast . Further, Dr. Lionel Casson in his recent translation and commentary on “The Periplus Maris Erythraei,” says the ships left Egypt in July to take advantage of strong winds out of the north in the Red Sea and while returning, the ships usually departed in December or January to catch a favorable shift in winds.

The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea primarily focuses on two trade routes originating at Egyptian ports: one, on the East African coast as far as Tanzania, and the other via the Arabian peninsula and Persian Gulf to western India. The author writes in detail of numerous cities, ports and harbours on these routes but India’s western coast, from Karachi down to Kanyakumari on the southernmost tip, accounts for nearly half the narrative.


5.8. Dr Lionel Casson says , a round trip to India covered about 3,500 miles. Dr. Casson, in his another book Rome’s Trade with the East: the Sea voyage to Africa and India, says that in those times the ships could make between four to six knots with fair wind. Accordingly, the mariners of those days could do about 100 miles per day, if they sailed through the night. That means to say the voyage from Egypt to Malabar might have taken about three weeks or a little less. According to Pliny, Eudoxus voyage to India and back took seventy days. In one-step, voyages were reduced from months to weeks, and profits soared.
5.9.One of the fallouts of Greeks’ increased trade with Southern India was, the perspective they gained of India ’s geography. The Greek geographers till then thought the Indian coast stretched from West to East. Now they could recognize the North _ South direction of India ’s West coast and its projection into the Indian Ocean .
5.10. Finally, Hippalus, real or otherwise, continues to hog the limelight. A crater on the moon is named after him .He is also a prominent character in Sprague de camp’s bestseller The Golden Wind.
 6. Pantainos (c.180 to 200AD) :
Very little information is available about Pantainos’s early life. It is said, to start with, he was a stoic philosopher. He later became a Christian. He established, in 180 AD, the famous Catechetical School in Alexandria (which later became the first Christian University ) to teach the beliefs and the philosophy of the new religion. He is regarded as the teacher of Clement of Alexandria , the first member of the Church of Alexandria . Clement called him “Sicilian bee” while Pantainos called himself “teacher of gentiles”. He is believed to be the author of the well-known Letter to Diognetus or atleast of its conclusion.
 6.1. Because of his zeal and learning, Pantainos was sent as a missionary to Malabar Coast, in South India, to preach Christianity. The Church in Kerala believes that Pantainos while in India came across Matthew’s Gospel in Aramaic.
(Source: J.W.Sedler – India and Greek world)
7.Frumentios of Tyros:
Frumentios in his childhood accompanied his uncle to India on what seems to have been a tourists’ trip, but remained there for many years as  the household superintendent under an Indian king. On his return to Alexandria , he was appointed Bishop of India in the year 336, and presumably returned to India to spread the Christian gospel.
7.1. Interestingly, the Ethiopian Christian tradition states that a certain Frumentios of Tyros was in Ethiopia in around 360 AD. While on a visit to India , he along with his brother Aidesios of the Äthiopiern was imprisoned but was later released and appointed as teacher to the prince. He preached Christianity while in India . On return to Alexandria , he was appointed Bishop of Ethiopia and was called “Apostel Abessiniens”.

Were they both talking about the same person?







According to Philostorgios (c.368 to 433AD)who is described as lateantique church historian, the Roman Emperor  Constantine (fourth century AD) dispatched a certain Theophilos to India to preach Christianity and that while in India he found some Christian followers of the Apostle Bartholomew. There is also a tradition that says Theophilos visited India and Maldives in AD 354, Mar. However, the details of his life are unknown and what little is known is disputed.
8.1.It is believed he came from one of the islands near Somalia . There is also an opinion that his travels were in connection with to trade and politics and were not related to religion.

Philip Mayerson in his essay A Confusion of Indias: Asian india and African India in the Byzantine Sources , says that after the fourth century the term India came to be applied rather loosely to refer to the subcontinent India , Axum/Ethopia or even to South Arabia and this has lead to much confusion. Mr. Mayerson says, Theophilos was not sent to India but was sent to perform missionary work among Homerites in Arabia Felix.


9. Kosmas Indikopleustes (Indian voyager):


He was a Greek traveler and Geographer who lived in Alexandria during the first half of the sixth century. He was a contemporary of Emperor Justinian I .He came from a family of traders and in his early years was trained to become a merchant. His business took him to various regions around Egypt . He voyaged in the Mediterranean , the Red Sea , and the Persian Gulf . The farthest he traveled was to the Cape Guardafui . He gathered information about these and other surrounding regions. It is not certain that he actually visited India .
9.1. The sub title “Indicopleustes” meaning “Indian voyager” stuck to him perhaps because in those days the entire region of Arabian Sea , the Red Sea and its sublets fell under the broad name Indian Ocean .
9.2. In his later years (ca. 540), he became a monk and entered the monastery of Raithu on the peninsula Sinai. In around 550AD, he wrote a richly illustrated twelve volume monumental work titled Christine Topography. One copy of the manuscript is in the Vatican Library while the other is in the Laurentian Library of Florence . A feature of the book is the cosmology the author projects. According to that, the earth is flat and heavens are in the shape of box with a curved lid. Cosmos aimed to disprove the pre-Christian geographers who asserted the earth was spherical in shape.
  9.3. If the cosmology is set aside, the book is an interesting and reliable guide to the world that has since disappeared.

In the words of Philip Meyerson , Christian Topography is the work of an anonymous Alexandrian merchant and an aspiring theologist who centuries later was given the name Cosmos and soubriquet of Indicopleustes although he never visited India .



It is sad that the Greek/Egypt trade with India collapsed after third century AD. The fall of the Roman Empire , and the succeeding dark ages brought instability to Western Europe and caused a near collapse of the trade network leading to a massive contraction of interregional trade. The Greek/Egypt and India trade was one of its early causalities.


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History


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Greeks in India Before Alexander

Greece and India Before Alexander

In his speech at a banquet hosted in his honor by Greece President Karolos Papoulias and in his address at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, on 26 April 2007, the President of the Indian Republic. Shri A. P. J. Abdul Kalam referred to exchanges between India and Greece that began well before Alexander’s march into India in 326 BC. Let us take a look at what these exchanges were.

Pre-historic era
Were there Greeks in India before the advent of Alexander the Great? Was Alexander the first Greek to conquer India?
The ancient Greek historians Pliny (VI..xxi.4-5), Solinus (52-5) and Arrian (Indica, I. ix) all assert that Alexander was not the first Greek to invade and conquer India.  Their accounts are a mixture of myths and history; and it is not easy to separate the one form the other.
According those historians, with some variations, Dionysus was the first Greek King to invade India. And, an incredibly long period of 6451 years and 3 months separates Dionysus from Alexander’s conquest of India. During that interval about 153 0r 154 kings reined. Diodorus Siculus (60 – 30 BCE) another historian mentions that there were three kings bearing the name Dionysus separated by long periods of time.  According to Diodorus it was the first Dionysus, the eldest – Dionysus of India (Indos) who conquered India.And, after his conquest he reigned over India for 52 years and died of old age,  thereafter his sons ruled in unbroken succession. Arrian (Indica, I. vii) drawing from the book of the Greek Ambassador Magasthenes writes “Dionysus founded cities and gave laws to those cities and introduced the use of wine among the Indians as he had done among the Greeks, and taught them to sow land, himself supplying the seeds….It is also said Dionysus first yoked oxen to the plough and furnished them with implements of agriculture, and also made husbandmen of the Indians He also mentions lot of other things introduced by Dionysus.
Dr. Nagendra Singh in his monumental Encyclopedia of Hinduism (pages 1712-15) after a lengthy discussion surmises that Dionysus the eldest, the Indos is the nearest equivalent to Prithu Vainya – Prithu the son of Vena in Indian mythology. Prithu is celebrated as Adiraja the first anointed monarch and the starter of royal dynasties. He is also the earliest among the monarchs to be hailed as Chakravarthin who ‘at the head of his army marched to every part of the world’. It was figuratively described that Prithu chased and conquered the earth which was fleeing from him like a cow. He was ‘Raja daivyena sahasa’ King with God-force. .It was after his name that the earth we live came to be known as Prithvi. The Atharva Veda( 8.10.24) credits Prithu with introducing the art of ploughing; leveling the whole arable earth; encouraging cultivation, cattle –breeding, commerce; building of cities and villages. Prithu is also said to have released the rapture of wine (Soma) from the earth for the delight of the gods.

It appears Prithu the Indian monarch runs parallel to the Greek Dionysus the Indos. I hesitate to suggest that both refer to one and the same person.

In case the the claim of the Greek historians that Dionysus marched in to India about 6451 years before the time of Alexander is taken seriously , it then throws the whole chronology of the Indian history as it is now acepted into a vortex.

[There are several other versions of the Dionysus legend. In one of the versions (Diodorus Library of History, Book III, 62-74) Dionysus is described as : “ The most ancient Dionysus was an Indian, and since his country, because of the excellent climate, produced the vine in abundance without cultivation, he was the first to press out the clusters of grapes and to devise the use of wine as a natural product, likewise to give the proper care to the figs and other fruits which grow upon trees, and, speaking generally, to devise whatever pertains to the harvesting and storing of these fruits. The same Dionysus is, furthermore, said to have worn a long beard, the reason for the report being that it is the custom among the Indians to give great care, until their death, to the raising of a beard. ….Furthermore, there are pointed out among the Indians even to this day the place where it came to pass that the god was born, as well as cities which bear his name in the language of the natives; and many other notable testimonials to his birth among the Indians still survive, but it would be a long task to write of them.”

Another version of the legend mentions that Dionysus did not die in India. It says: “ Then he made a campaign into India, whence he returned to Boeotia in the third year bringing with him a notable quantity of booty, and he was the first man ever to celebrate a triumph seated on an Indian elephant..And the Boeotian and other Greeks and the Thracians, in memory of the campaign in India, have established sacrifices every other year to Dionysus

Let us now turn to recorded history


alexander in india

From the Introduction to On Alexander’s Track to the Indus by Sir Aurel Stein; Published by Macmillan & Co., London – 1929


A.Sindhu –Hindu _ India

Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor . In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today  call as India is named as  Hapta Hendu,   the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah– the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along  with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well. 

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian term Hindu became the Greek Indos/(plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and  had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia

B.The Great Persian Empire

3. King Cyrus, the founder of Persian Empire and of the Achaemenid dynasty (559-530 B.C.), added to his territories the region of Gandhara, located mainly in the vale of Peshawar . By about 516 B.C., Darius son of Hystaspes annexed the Indus valley and formed the twentieth satrapy of the Persian Empire . The annexed areas included parts of Punjab . This became the twentieth satrapy, the richest and most populous Satrapy of the Persian Empire . In the inscription at Nakshi–e-Rustam(486.BCE) a reference is made to the  tributes paid  to Darius by Hidush and others vassal such as Ionians, Spartans, Bactrians, Parthians, and Medes. 

4. Thus, the Indus region became the easternmost boundary of the vast Persian Empire, which sprawled across all of western Asia to include, after 546 B.C., most of the Greek cities on the coast of Asia Minor. The skills and labor of all of Persia ‘s subjects, Greeks included, were employed in imperial building projects. Many Greeks served as officials or mercenaries in the various Achaemenid provinces. Indian troops formed a contingent of the Persian army that invaded Greece in 480 B.C. Indian troopers were also a part of the army that faced Alexander at Gaugamela in 331 B.C. 

The Greeks and Indians were together thrown into the vast Persian machinery. The requirements of war, administration and commerce in the far-flung Persian Empire provided numerous occasions for the Indians and Greeks to work together. Most of such interactions may have been inconsequential; but it is likely some genuine exchanges of ideas might have taken place. 

C.Scholars and Historians

-Hekataios and Herodotus

5. The term Indos(India) first appeared in Greek literature in about 5th century B.C. in the works of Hekataios of Miletos (B.C. 549–486) and Herodotus of Halikarnassos (484-425 B. C.), The word  Inder or India,  in Greek and in Persian, originally referred only to the Indus region, which then   was under the Persian Empire. Herodotus, however, used the term in a wider sense to denote the whole country and classical Greek usage followed his example.

6. Long before Alexander’s march into India, Greek writers, such as Hekataeos and Herodotus, possessed some information about India . This information however was not gained directly by visit to India or by study of its texts. Most of what the Greeks knew of India came to them by word of mouth, percolated through Persia , from its soldiers, merchants and officials in the Persian Empire . That perhaps explains why the early Greek writings of India look like a strange concoction of facts and fantasy. Hekataeos mentions the river Indus, Herodotus speaks of the Gandarioi race, perhaps inhabitants of the Peshawar valley, whose town was Kaspapyros( Peshawar ?). Herodotus mentions the name of one of the deities, worshipped in common by the Vedic Indians and the Persian Zoroastrians, namely Mitra; but he takes Mitra for a female deity. The knowledge so gained through Persia was also the source for those few Indian names that appear in the surviving remnants of Hekataio’s Geography (ca. 500 B.C.) Unfortunately, his work is now in fragments and it is nearly impossible to tell precisely what Hekataios did know about India . Like his predecessor, Herodotus also did not visit India , but he was a tireless collector of anecdotes from many sources

 -Ktesias (405-397 B.C.)

7. The last of those Greeks, before Alexander, who wrote about India, was Ktesias of Knidos. He had a better access to information on India than his predecessors did.  Ktesias was a medical doctor by profession; he served for eight years (405-397 B.C.) as the personal physician to the Persian king Artaxerxes Mnemon (404–358 B.C.), son and successor of Darius II. . He did not claim he visited India . He may have had occasions to meet Indians or Persian officials who served in the empire’s Indian territories. Even from the vantage point of the Persian court at Susa , India still seemed  a strange and virtually unknown country. Upon his return to Greece , Ktesias wrote a book called Persika, covering the entire history of the Near East from its beginnings down to his own time, as well as a much smaller work called Indika, about India . With respect to India , the information Ktesias has to offer is occasionally accurate, though more often exaggerated. He did take care, nonetheless, to distinguish between things he had himself seen and the information he acquired by hearsay.

Both his works have disappeared; but there are a number of citations, together with extensive excerpts made by the Byzantine Photios – Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th century. 

8. What the early Greeks knew about India did not amount to much and it was not accurate either. Nevertheless, the writings of Hekataios, Herodotus and Ktesias did not only evoke some awareness of India ‘s existence among the educated Greek but also added a very important chapter to cultural history of India and Greece . Presumably, these histories  had some effect on the Greek intellectual life. Herodotus explained in his works how foreign contacts might produce a relativistic point of view.

 D.Explorers and travellers.

9. The first Greeks to set foot in India were probably servants of the Persian Achaemenid Empire (550-330 B.C.) – that vast polity which touched upon Greek city-states at its western extremity and India on the east. Most of the persons who made the trip to India are unknown to us. They are the anonymous seamen, merchants and hangers-on who followed the sea-lanes from the Red Sea to the Malabar Coast (?).However, despite these rather extensive contacts, Hellenistic literature provides incredibly few accounts of such travels. 

10. The first Greek who is supposed to have actually visited India and to have written an account of it was Skylax of Karyanda in Karia. He lived before Herodotus, who tells that Darius Hystargus (512–486) led a naval expedition to prove the feasibility of a sea passage from the mouth of Indus to Persia . Under the command of Skylax, a fleet sailed from Punjab in the Gandhara country to the Ocean. 

Skylax later wrote a book of geography titled Indika apparently a report of his expedition that set out to follow the Indus from its headwaters to its mouth.

Herodotus did not appear to have a high opinion of Skylax as a historian.


11. Alexander’s expedition to India was a landmark in the History of the region and it vastly increased the Greeks’ knowledge of India . A number of his associates – Callisthenes, Onesikritos, Aristobulos, Nearchos, Ptolemaios – wrote about India ; their works remained standard sources on the country for centuries afterward. The picture of India that Alexander’s companions and successors presented to the Greek world, helped historians to reconstruct events in ancient India , though partially. Greek’s association with India has left a indelible mark on India ’s cultural, artistic and political history. 

12. In comparison to Greek sources, the Indian sources are very scanty. There is hardly any writing concerning the events of those times. While Alexander’s invasion of India opened the way to further Indo-Greek relations, Indians do not appeared to have entered the Greek world until nearly the Christian era. There is also no evidence of Indian Ambassadors being in the courts of Egypt or Roman Empires, except in the Ashoka’s edits where the emissaries to Syria , Egypt , Macedonia and Libyaare mentioned .



India and the Greek World; 
A study in the transmission of culture 
Sedlar, Jean W. 
New Jersey, 1980

 Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (pages 1712-15) By Dr.Nagendra Singh

 Please also read : Some other Greeks in India

Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History


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