June 10, 2010

Tattered Indian Historiography



J. L. Mehta had remarked that the contribution of Japial has been underrated. It is not a over statement. Rather, it is a 'matter of fact' statement. It can be put in other terms and can be said that it is one of the biggest shortcoming of Indian historiography. There are similar cases throughout the history writing in India.

There is need to define the issue underlying the above assertions. Alberuni had remarked that Indians did not have the awareness of the intellect of maintaining historic record. It is very difficult to contradict the statement of Alberuni. He was not an employ of Ghori. He was a type of a free lancer. He remained in India. He had undertaken empirical study. Then only he wrote his Tarik I Hind. He was not there to appease any patron. All these arguments favour the validation of the observation of Alberuni. Further, before Alberuni, Mahmud Ghazni deputed Fartishta to write his chronicle. Utbi covered his reign in detail. Amir Timur had to his name his autobiography. However, the scholars have found that it was got written by the Amir. Froze Shah Tughlaq wrote his autobiography though in form of small notes. Babur wrote Baburnama. Humanyun was a scholar. Akabr did not have liking for writing himself but he was highly fond of listening to the books. He had used his resources to arrange for writing and translation of many books. Jahangir had written Jahangirnama. There was a tradition among the Turkish political leaders to maintain a record. The same thing can not be said about the Indian political leaders.

Now the preceding observations are open to debate. We can say there is every reason to say such a thing that the absence and non-availability of any written record was not an evidence of its non-existence. We have cases contrary to that. Chandar Bardai wrote about Prithviraj. Kalhan and then six next authors continued to write about Rajtrangani. Every king tried to relocate his ancestry to a Puranic King. The inscriptions are found written on mathas and temples. There is every possibility that if political accounts were there, then they were destroyed. We have a case for it. It is recorded evidence that Ikhtiyarudin Bakhtiyar Khilji used the leaves books to warm the water for his bath. Bakhityar Khilji could have been a stupid person who was not able to learn the value of written books found at Nalanda. But such a justification is a very simplistic justification. It is rather a cunning way of hiding the bigger game plan which had been played by the invaders. Probably Khilji was just repeating a practice which was in force since the days of Ghori when he crossed Indus. The case of Khilji had come on record and the earlier acts were not recorded. Who was there to record? The invaders had it a part of their strategy to destroy the written records of the vanquished.

Now if there was any written record and that was destroyed by the khilji act, even then work of historians was not hampered. They had the testimonies of the foreign writers to extract the references and resurrect the history the period. However, that was not to happen. The invaders were followed by invaders. The next invader was Europeans. They were more committed. They did not have the policy of Dar-ul-harb and Dar-ul-Islam. But they had a mind set of 'White Men Burden'. It was more cruel and nasty mind set. The mind set get reflected in the first fully formulated work of J. Mills. The characterization hides beneath it the overtones of a racial invader. The issue is not that who were more racial – Nordics or Turks. The issue is the failure of Indian History. The finest example is the history of V. A. Smith published in 1904. The author and a retried bureaucrat had performed his work as per the craft of historian. But a discerning reader and analyst can easily find a truck load of paragraphs standing alone in his work which mocks at the failure of Indian historians. They are surfeited with racial bias. At many places the author just stop his narration and write a paragraph mocking at the Indian history. He had been quoted on Akbar that Akbar was a foreigner with no drop of Indian blood in his veins. The preceding and succeeding contents get dragged with the racial tinge. There are numerous such examples which could be gleaned from the book.

The above points can be authenticated by true evidences. Here, the argument is taken forward and it can be said that bit too abruptly taken forward to 1960's of Indian historiography. The European world was taken over by the spirit of post-modernist idea. They had started dismantling their own percepts of their history in light of the experiences of the post World War Second period. The Renaissance period was revisited. The concept of 'Dark Age' was dismantled, devastated, destroyed and liquidated. A new concept of Middle Ages was brought out in its place. In India, there was a chance for Indian historians to play their role. India was a free country then. It had started providing solutions to her own problems in her own terms. Historians had a chance to define India. They could also have dismantled, devastated, destroyed and liquidated the mindset about India which have been breathing life since the days of Alberuni. The task devolved upon such historians who were good analysts. But that became their shortcoming. They were good analyst. Their analytical tool was mathematical in nature. Their guru in India was an established mathematician, D. D. Kosambi who rubbed shoulders with Einstein and von Nuamann. But they were wedded to a philosophy which had a different goal which unfortunately had been missed in a miserable manner at a time when chasm between rich and poor was widening and the capitalist mindset through liberal use of impartial but more powerful technological marvels had pervaded everything which is called human.

The Marxist historians revisited the history of India with an intellectual anchor of Marxist philosophy. This became the cause of their failure to define the history of India for the the Indians. All their intellectual exercise revolved around the core of Marxist theory of fight between the classes and economic forces as the major engine of history. It was desired that they should have written history for India but they were under the subjugation of a western philosophy.

The Indian continent suffered the shower of Turkish races, the swords and hoofs of their horses from the beginning of the second millennium. After that they just poured down on Indian land and it seems if there was no one in India to stop them. Now it is a historic fact. They came, they saw and they conquered. Was there no effort on the part of the actual habitants to counter them, to oppose them and push them back? You read the history books and you find that all that is written is just the success stories of the successes of invaders. While writing about Akbar, V. A. Smith boldly wrote that there was not a single drop of blood from India in his veins. He was a foreigner, a complete foreigner. He was just there in Gurdaspur when he became the king without any territory in Indian to his name but when he died, he had his own city at Fatehpur Sikri where he was buried. It was an achievement and a great achievement from every angle. He had his son who had Indian blood in his vein. But Jahangir, the son of Akbar, was boldly proud of his Turkish origin and his son Shahjahan who had crossed over the other side of Vindhya dreamt of even conquering Farghana, totally in the different direction, the original land of their origin. Between, Jahangir and Shahjahan, there was a Prince Khusrau. The history books do not narrate much about him. His father was annoyed that the boy was imprudent. His brother took him along to south and then killed him. Later he killed his nephews also. Everyone knew about it. Jahangir knew about it. But no body spoke. Shahjahan might have destroyed every evidence of the greatness of Khusrau. Akbar wanted him to succeed him. This is how the invaders work.

There are references in Akabrnama, that Akbar had in his library more than 24000 books. Abul Fazal had it on record that his brother Faizi contributed the choicest books to the library. There was a team of fourteen writers, two each for every day, who wrote down every thing about the happenings in the court of the Mughals. Anybody could get a copy of those writings. Aurangzeb had even passed an injunctions that the minutes of the courts as prepared by the department on daily basis would not be available to the scholars in his time. There was a department and there was a system to maintain the record. Those papers were definitely kept in Agra Fort. But where are those papers? There are historians who have found many manuscript from the offices of the Mughals in different archives. But that would definitely have been a big treasure from where history of the period could have been written. But they are not available. What would have happened to them. They would have perished or was they destroyed by the English administrators the way the Khilji did to the Nalanda library. There was not one paper burning Khilji.

It was not only J. L. Mehta, who got disturbed by many patches in Indian history. Even, probably more famous and popular than him, the student of A. L. Basham, Dr. Romila Thapar had also brought on record some similar judgements in her writings. She had given an opinion that the Indian historians did not try to write history for India. They had been merely reacting and criticising what had been written about India.

The main issue is that there is a need to dismantle many of constructs which are raised by the invaders about India. Then, there is dire need to define the India as it has been existing since the antiquity. Mind it, it can only be done if you dismantle the theory of nation in making of nineteenth century. As long as Vishnu Purana is there, nation in making is a construct. The English should have burnt the Vedic literature also. However, they had a problem because there were some sick minded scholars among them whom they had called Orientalist. Those guy were bend upon preserving some of the literature. Then, it was to be followed by revisiting the India history once again. The government of India establishes committees and commission on the use of technology for empowering India. It forms groups on the judicious use of water resources. It forms groups on alleviating the poverty of the masses. Similarly, there is a need to form a group of scholars to revisit the history of India.


The Essay is Open. It means that the contents may be altered.


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Date of Posting: June 10, 2010


Post-Modernism, Economics and KnowledgeFrom Expressionism to Post-Modernism: Styles and Movements in 20th Century Western Art (Grove Art Series)Historiography and Writing Postcolonial India (Routledge Studies in South Asian History)Historiography and Writing Postcolonial IndiaCreative Pasts: Historical Memory and Identity in Western India, 1700-1960 (Cultures of History)Presenting the Past: Anxious History and Ancient Future in Hindutva India


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