October 23, 2006

Talking to a Doyen

It is more profitable to listen to a doyen than to read a book. It may be a sweeping statement. It is used here to start a talk.

When you read a book, it may take four to five days. After you complete a reading, you just receive a scratch on your mind. You receive an impression about the subject matter on which a book is written. However, you take more than forty to fifty hours to complete a book. The final result is that you develop a scanty idea about a concept or theme. If you like to keep the book or buy a personal copy, mostly it is because there is good bank of data on an event, a personality or a trend.

When you talk to a doyen, you learn more than you can learn from a book. The doyen delivers to you a refined content and final verdict. He gives more than what you can learn from a reading of a book.

I talked to Prof. J. K. Sharma, an expert on Buddhism and Ancient History with Panjab University, Chandigarh. It was a general talk. However, even during the talk, I learnt more than I could have learnt by reading three to four books. We talked on a telephone for merely 29 minutes. There was lost of personal talks. Even then, I am left with more learning than what I could have done by reading a book for 29 hours. Let me share it with rest of the world.

D. D. Kosambi is considered as a leading historian of India and pioneer of many trends in Indian historiography. However, he was an amateur historian. He was a mathematician by training and received his degree from Harvard University. He desired to undertake a specializing but failed to receive scholarship. He remained back in India and ventured in to field of History.

In history, he introduced the device of statistical conclusions. He became the first Marxist Historian in true sense. He used his understanding of mathematics in using statistical devices to present his conclusions in the subject of history. On the basis of his study of history, he gave the thesis of thematic periodization. He criticized the dynastic periodization of Indian history. The trend he started him later became the dominating theme of historic research in India.

He was a polyglot. He knew nearly eleven languages.

He had written four books and nearly fifty plus research papers. The OUP has published a combined book on Kosambi which includes all his works.

Meera Kosambi is her daughter. She is an expert in Sociology. She had contributed to the historiography of gender studies.

Finally, the trend of transporting the foreign models to Indian history and history study is still going on. The Chola period is being study with different perspective only because a theory of fragmentary empire is being borrowed from African history and fixed over the achievements of the Chola period in Indian history. This is the bane of Indian history. The Indians have not be able to develop any authoritative theory in the field of history. As I understand, it is also true in case of Indian Economy and Indian Sociology. The Gandhian Trusteeship is considered non-feasible option. Nehru brought mixed economy model. The experts in the field tried to convince every that it was the best answer at that time. Nehru framed his Public Private Sector economic planning on the basis of his socialism. The Indians were taught the lessons of saving and spending less. But nineties brought the open economy model. The expert now changed the tone of their ragas. They convinced us that it is the panacea for the health of the country. The mixed economy and license raj was the bane of Indian economy. The world is changing so we have to change. But what about the basic ratios of Indian economy and society. The class and caste divide is still. The people suffers due to illiteracy, lack of health services and poverty surrounded by rising malls and extending flyovers. This is all due to importing of intellectual models and weakness of Indian intellectual to bring out Indian models built on Indian given ground realities. One or two D. D. Kosambis are not enough. We need more Kosambis in field of social sciences.

The above impression received as scratches after merely talking for 29 minutes with a doyen.

Edited: Date: October 23, 2006: Added information.

Note: I stand responsible for the above views.

Additional sources on D. D. Kosambi:
Added on October 23, 2006:

Read the books by D. D. Kosambi online at Arvind Gupta Toys and his team. (Move Down the list to locate the books which are in PDF.)

Bhupinder Singh has also collected online sources on Blogspot site and Geocities Sites (They actually take you to Arvind Gupta work. Here it is acknowledged that the online books as given by Arvind Gupta was located through the posting of Bhupinder Singh.

K. M. Shrimali, another noted historian writes a review on the OUP book on D. D. Kosambi on Frontline

A. L. Basham had paid a personal Tribute to Baba in R. S. Sharma Edited ICHR Journal.

Dr. (Mrs.) Jyotsna Kamat write about Acharaya Kosambi the father of D. D. Kosambi on the family portal Kamat Potpurri.

Neutral Observer had recently reviewed the book "An Introduction to the Study of Indian History" a classic book by D. D. Kosambi.

Wikipedia has nothing much over an above than that could be collected from above sources. The article writer has used the online resources only to write it, something which I have done in many articles posted here.

October 22, 2006

A Case Study on Development of Functional Meaning of the Gazetteer

The Gazetteer literally means a geographical index or at the most a geographical dictionary. However, gradually, it acquired a character, that imparted it a status of an important recorded source in the field of history. Herein, the meaning of gazetteer is studied as it developed in colonial British India and post Independence India. It is not an exhaustive work. It is merely a commentary on a preface of a gazetteer which is made available online. However, the contents as extracted from there, make a good essay and qualify the title of this write up. The source is the activity undertaken by the Gazetteers Department of the Government of Maharashtra, and reported online. Therefore, it is mere a case study and not a complete analysis as such.

British Administrative Motive:

This is an extract from a circular of 1843, issued in the Bombay Presidency to the collectors of the districts. It reads as follows:
"Government called on the Revenue Commissioner to obtain from all the Collectors as part of their next Annual Report the fullest available information regarding their districts….. ….Government remarked that, as Collectors and their Assistants during a large portion of the year moved about the district in constant and intimate communication with all classes they possessed advantages which no other public officers enjoyed of acquiring a full knowledge of the condition of the country, the causes of progress or retrogradation, the good measures which require to be fostered and extended, the evil measures which call for abandonment, the defects in existing institutions which require to be remedied, and the nature of the remedies to be applied. Collectors also, it was observed, have an opportunity of judging of the effect of British rule on the condition and character of the people, on their caste prejudices, and on their superstitious observances. They can trace any alteration for the better or worse in dwellings, clothing and diet, and can observe the use of improved implements of husbandry or other crafts, the habits of locomotion, the state of education, particularly among the higher classes whose decaying means and energy under our most levelling system compared with that of preceding governments will attract their attention. Finally they can learn how far existing village institutions are effectual to their end, and may be made available for self-government and in the management of local taxation for local purposes."
(Extract quoted in Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. I, Part I (History of Gujarat), pp. iii. and iv.)

It is further reported there that "In obedience to these orders reports were received from the Collectors of Ahmedabad, Broach, Kaira, Thana and Khandesh. Some of the reports contained much interesting information. These five northern reports were practically the only result of the Circular Letter of 1843."

It is further reported there that nothing further seems to have taken place after the above mentioned activity. On the whole, in the year 1843, it was believed that the main source of the information were the district administration officers who moved around among the people in the region. They were identified as the right people to report the data and then that data had to be processed and provided to the next future officers.

In the meantime the Gazetteer for the Central Provinces of British Indian Empire was completed in the year 1867.

The Secretary of State of India desired in 1867 that the Presidency of Bombay should also prepare the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency as a similar record had been prepared for Central Indian Provinces. The Bombay Presidency appointed a Bombay Gazetteer Committee in year 1868. It was directed to ‘supervise and direct the preparation of the Gazetteer’. Finally, Mr. James M. Campbell of Bombay Civil Services was entrusted the responsibility of the Bombay Gazetteer Committee. Mr. Campbell started the work of compilation in 1874. He completed the work of compilation by the year 1884. The work of the publication of the compilation started in year 1877 and continued up to the year 1904. It took 27 years to complete the work of the publication. In the year 1904, the General Index volume was published. It had 27 volumes and on the whole 35 books including the General Index Volume. The number of books increased over the number of volumes because some of the volumes had more than one book.

Definition of Gazetteer

The Gazetteer literally means a geographical dictionary or a geographical index. However, in practice, the contents of a Gazetteer underwent a tremendous change. A study of development of the change of the actual meaning and contents of a gazetteer makes a good story and a case.

The British Imperial administrators grappled with the problem of providing the right information to the people whom they entrusted with the responsibility of running the administration of a districts as the collectors of the administrative unit in the Bombay Presidency. The authorities sought the solution in getting a gazetteer ready for that purpose. It raised the demand on their part to understand the actual importance and usability of such a compilation. They sought the opinion of the their expert. The opinion and practical advice was given by Sir William Hunter, Director General of Statistics to the Government of India. His guidance and opinion was sought in case of preparation of Gazetteer for Dharwar District in year 1871. It was sought to get into the core understanding on the purpose which a gazetteer was intended to service. Sir William Hunter gave the following opinion.

"My own conception of the work is that, in return for a couple of days’ reading, the Account should give a new Collector a comprehensive, and, at the same time, a distinct idea of the district which he has been sent to administer. Mere reading can never supersede practical experience in the district administration. But a succinct and well conceived district account is capable of antendating the acquisition of such personal experience by many months and of both facilitating and systematising a Collector’s personal enquiries………But in all cases a District Account besides dealing with the local specialities should furnish a historical narration of its revenue and expenditure since it passed under the British rule, of the sums which we have taken from it in taxes, and of the amount which we have returned to it in the protection of property and person and the other charges of civil government." (quoted in Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. I, Part I, (History of Gujarat), pp. vii.)

Hence, it was just a reversal of the meaning of the purpose of the collection of a required data to be compiled as a gazetteer. In the circular of 1843, it was deemed right to collect the data from the collectors themselves, because they had the first hand information about the area. They were considered right people for the source of such information because of the requirement of the services required them to move around the district and come across the reality at ground level. They were the people at the front. Hence, the data collected thus was meant for the use of the government and for the future district administration. Now, when the gazetteer was being prepared in 1868, firstly the meaning of the term was modified and altered. Secondly, it was also identified that it should only be such document which would gave a distinct idea of the districts and nothing more than that. It is quite an understandable conclusion. The district collectors had to work on the day to day basis and by the time he reached his posted place, the new changes took place. For the colonial government, there were other restrains also.

Post Independence Activity:

In 1949, the Government of Bombay, (at that time, reorganization of the states had not taken place.) felt the need of up to date gazetteer. Therefore, it was decided that the old Gazetteer of Bombay Presidency should be revised and republished by making it up to date. An Editorial Board was established for that purpose. The Editorial Board completed its works in year 1854 under Mr. M. R. Palande, Executive Editor and Secretary, Editorial Board.

The Editorial Board of the Government of Bombay contributed to the nature of the Gazetteer after they acquired it in their hands. The Editorial had its own opinion and views. The Board was now an office of the Government of the Republic of India which is a secular country. This was reflected in the opinions and views of the Board while undertaking the activity of the work of the revision.

The board found that in the older gazetteer that "There are portions in the old Gazetteer bearing on archaeology and history which have the impress of profound scholarship and learning and their worth has not diminished by the mere passage of time. Even in their case, however, some restatement is occasionally necessary in view of later investigations and new archaeological finds by scholars, and an attempt has been made to incorporate in this edition the results of such subsequent research."

Then Board was also fully aware of the its own status in 1949. It wrote, "In a dynamic world, circumstances and facts of life change, and so do national requirements and social values. Such significant changes have taken place in India as in other countries during the last half a century, and more so after the advent of Independence in 1947. The general scheme and contents of this revised series of the Gazetteer have been adapted to the needs of the altered conditions. There is inevitably some shift in emphasis in the presentation and interpretation of certain phenomena. For example, the weighted importance given to caste and community in the old Gazetteer cannot obviously accord with the ideological concepts of a secular democracy, though much of that data may have considerable interest from the functional, sociological or cultural point of view. What is necessary is a change in perspective in presenting that account so that it could be viewed against the background of a broad nationalism and the synthesis of a larger social life. It is also necessary to abridge and even to eliminate elaborate details about customs and practices which no longer obtain on any extensive scale or which are too insignificant to need any elaboration. In the revised Gazetteer, therefore, only a general outline of the practices and customs of the main sections of the population has been given."

Finally, it added a new dimension to the fresh volumes by adding separate sections on the each village and town in a district. It only provided information in tabulation form. Thus the fresh gazetteers came up.

But the Question arises, does the District Collectors or Deputy Commissioners (as the case may be as per the States Governments’ Public Administration Structure.) use a gazetteer of a district as such to develop
a historic perspective for running the administration? Do they form their administrative acts keeping in view the contents of the document? Well Sir Hunter has already given an opinion that ‘mere reading could never supersede practical experience in the district administration.’

Source: The Gazetteers Department of Maharashtra Government, Pune District Gazetteer.

October 20, 2006

Puranics: Altered or Forgotten Tradition

The readers of Puranas (mainly Bhagvat Purana) in public with motive of earning of merit for self and the merits for the listeners were called Puranics.

Here is an eyewitness account of the description of a Puranic family of ninteenth century of India. It is a part of autobiographical note of Saraswati Pandita Ramabai (1858 – 1922) as per the site of International Christian Women’s History Project (ICWHP) .

Postal Stamp of Pandita Ramabai issued in October 1989 in India

"Ever since I remember anything, my father and mother were always traveling from
one sacred place to another, staying in each place for some months, bathing in
the sacred river or tank, visiting temples, worshipping household gods and the
images of gods in the temples, and reading Puranas in temples or in some
convenient places.

The reading of the Puranas served a double purpose.
The first and the foremost was that of getting rid of sin, and of earning merit
in order to obtain Moksha. The other purpose was to earn an honest living,
without begging.

The readers of Puranas. Puranikas as they are called-
are the popular and public preachers of religion among the Hindus. They sit in
some prominent place, in temple halls or under the trees, or on the banks of
rivers and tanks, with their manuscript books in their hands, and read the
Puranas in a loud voice with intonation, so that the passers-by, or visitors of
the temple might hear. The text, being in the Sanskrit language, is not
understood by the hearers. The Puranikas are not obliged to explain it to them.
They may or may not explain it as they choose. And sometimes when it is
translated and explained, the Puranika takes great pains to make his speech as
popular as he can by telling greatly exaggerated or untrue stories. This is not
considered sin, since it is done to attract common people's attention, that they
may hear the sacred sound, the names of the gods, and some of their deeds, and
be purified by this means. When the Puranika reads Puranas, the hearers, who are
sure to come and sit
around him for a few moments at least, generally give
him presents. The Puranika continues to read, paying no attention to what the
hearers do or say. They come and go at their choice.

When they come, the
religious ones among them prostrate themselves before him and worship him and
the book, offering flowers, fruits, sweetmeats, garments, money, and other
things. It is supposed that this act brings a great deal of merit to the giver,
and the person who receives does not incur any sin. If a hearer does not give
presents to the Puranika, he loses all the merit which he may have earned by
good acts. The presents need not be very expensive ones, a handful of rice or
other grains, a pice, or even a few cowries, which are used as an invitation."

By Pandita Ramabai, Dated: March, 1907.

A General Comment:

In present days in India, you do not come across a pilgrim, who performs the work of a Puranic. However, on the other hand, there many Kathakars, Elucidators on Bhagvat Gita and other religious books like Ramayana etc. There are television channels exclusively dedicated to such speakers who address to their audience in different robes. In Sikh religion also, there are Patthis and Raagis who have taken up similar activity and enjoying a good audience. Whenever such people visit a city, there are big hoarding, showing their oversized faces produced with the latest technology in printing. They come to the stage in a grand manner. They are surrounded by such followers who readily give large amounts in charity. There are people who sponsor their visits to their cities. They put in to practice all the successful marketing and event organising skills and models when they perform their act of elucidation. They do not use Sanskrit much in their elaboration. They talk in a dialect which their audience can understand. Can they be called the present day Puranics???

The source claim that the writing has been borrowed from the official document issued by the Government of India in the year 1989, when the Indian Government issued a commemorative stamp on Pandita Ramabai and had also declared her the women of the millenium. Philatelic officer of Department of Post might have issued it. However, there is no counter proof to establish the authenticity of the account. Similarly, as per the account given there, the death of Pandita Ramabai is given as 1920. However, on numerous other sites, it is given as 1922. It creates some doubts. A review of the book of Pandita Ramabai by Meera Kosambi given on Vedams Books, the last year of her life is given as 1922. It is only that the description given about the Puranic seems to near to the truth, that the relevant description is reproduced above.

Photograph Source:
Wikipedia and Indian Post. On the India Post site, the details provided about the stamp does not contain the autobiographical essay as claimed by International Christian Women’s History Project (ICWHP).

October 19, 2006

Revised list of History Blogs on HNN

Monitor by Triambak at sumirsharma.blogspot.com
Ralph E. Luker has updated the blogroll on History News Network. It now contains around 500 blogs nicely grouped into categories. No doubt, Ralph E. Luker has imaginatively titled his revised list information as "You can’t Eat a Blogroll". However, there is need to comment that in this manner, one may get at one place the material for one own interest. The bonus is that it is being done intelligently and there are pertinent comments and there will be such citations and references which make it more useful.

I for the one have learnt a lot from the people who are online. I remember here John Simkin through whom I ventured on this method of communication. Soon I found that Internet was not all that easy place. Then came new devices like Wikis and Directories where you can find the relevant source material to substantiate your understanding or just read the opposite version. In addition to that you learn about other issues, topics and activities about which you could have not learnt because of limitation of your milieu.

Ralph has given a note on the latest addition. Apart from reference to AHA, a portal which I visited earlier but forgot to remember the exact name and groped with different phrases on search engines to locate it, there is reference to Digital Historians. Now apart from W Turkel blog, which already includes some highly heavy reference to fellow workers, I have new blogs to look at.

Further, he has added four blogs from Asia wherein this blog has found place. At the end of Cliopatria’s Appendices, it is stated as "Categories are an abstraction. Many blogs do not categorize well. We've done the best we can. Neither category, order or position are intended as value or quality judgements." It is quite an understandable noting on the work done by Cliopatria. My blog has been placed in the category of region. I have never intended to make it as blog of regional history. I had named it hurriedly because there was such exuberance at the time of making the blog that I never thought for why I am naming it as it is today. It was later, I specified that it would deal with philosophy of history, methodology and online resources. I consider historian a person without a nation. Rather, for a historian, the humanity is his nation. It is the time and space function as watched through records or sources which makes the historian. Thus the motive was specified in the header. However, the blog has found the place under a region category and specified as an Asian region blog. Well as far as my origin is concerned, I am an Asian. Secondly, after looking at the category and inclusion of the blog, I was made to review the overall character of my blog. I found that though I profess lofty ideas about my understanding of history, I have made more pertinent observation about one country, one place and a specific time period. In case of time period, I have remained true to my liking for eighteen and nineteenth century. No doubt, I have made comments about Gandhi Era and referred to Subhash Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Mohd. Ali Jinnah and historiography on that period, but, calendars do not decide that a phase ends with the printed date. For India, 1947 has remained a nineteenth century. The calendar date may be a convenient reference but history makes it own time periods. It has made eighteen and nineteenth century interesting for me. It may not be same with others. As far as region is concerned, I think, now even the space time paradigm will change. Shooting off the tangent!! Ok, Let me break away at this point.

Anyhow, I will continue with my activity as such. I am coming up with more postings. I have completed reading of one of the book. (I make three to four reading of a book then I start making points. May be cognition and comprehension not all that good? But it is how I do it.) Now, I have a list of blogs through an authoritative source. It will help to remain in touch with the direction of new trends.

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