How much of Indian History is really true — A Talk by Sanjeev Sanyal
To what extent is the Indian history really true. The genesis of this comes from the general impression among people that Indians are generally an ahistoric people, who are not particularly interested in their own history. But this statement is unfounded, as Indians are part of one of the oldest civilizations on earth, and are also a people who use characters and relics from the iron age in their daily conversations as a norm. Additionally, millions of Indians chant the Gayatri Mantra on a daily basis, which is something that dates back to the Bronze age.
Here is an article on the talk. To listen the full talk, please watch the below video.
This clearly points to the fact that we are a people obsessed with the continuity of our civilization, one that we have bought with blood. Hence it is a misconception that we are not interested in our past.
In order to find out why we are accused of being disinterested in our past, it can be argued that as intelligent human beings, we know that the history we are taught through our text books is false, and therefore we do not have any respect for it. Now that this fact has been determined, we can put two questions forward;
1. To what extent is the history we are taught false
2. How can we amend it
Looking into the reasons why our history is so mangled, the most important factor to take note of is, that the history we are taught is not our history at all. In fact, it is the history of foreign invaders who are in essence writing the history of their own invasions, and it consist of detail on all the battles that the Indians have lost. The largest proof of all these stories being one sided and biased is the fact that we are here today, and contrary to the claims made in these war accounts, our race has not been wiped off.
The history narrative in the Indian text books and other reading material has talked extensively about the Battle of Plassey, the 3 battles of Panipat or the Battle of Baksar. Mahmood Ghazni and his 17 invasions over 25 years are mentioned prominently, and this story is usually followed by that of Mummad Ghouri’s defeat of Prtihvi Raj Chouhan. But nowhere does it say that there was a period of 150 years between Mahmood Ghazni and Muhammad Ghouri. In 1033 AD, the Battle of Bahraich was fought between a large Turkish Army and a much smaller contingent of Indian chieftains, led by Suhaldev or Sukhdev Pasi, near what is now known as Ayodhya. Led by the nephew of Mahmood Ghazni, who was killed in action, the Turks were destroyed to such an extent during this battle that they did not dare to come back for the next 150 years.
Another gaping hole in the written history text of India is the defeat of the Mughal Empire at the hand of the Assamese near Sarai Ghat. The Assamese were led by one of the greatest Indian Generals called Lachit Borphukan, who managed to sink the entire attacking army of the Mughals at the Brahmaputra, which is where they had come to fight the Assamese. This was the first time that the Mughals were defeated in this manner in India, since Babar came back to rule India. This started the downfall of the Mughal Empire, as the Marathas and the Bundelas etc upped the ante of attacks on the invaders.
Baji Rao was another great General in the Indian history. A most important fact that has not been taught in the history books is, that the British did not conquer India from the Mughals, but from the Marathas. At one point, the Marathas ruled a part of India larger than Babar’s entire empire. Another important part of history which has been skipped over is about how the Dutch Empire was crushed before it could attempt to take over India. At that point in time, the Dutch were the greatest power in the world and were specially regarded for their maritime prowess. They were challenged and defeated by the ruler of a small kingdom in Kerala called Marthanda Vurmah. He crushed the expansionist designs of the Dutch when they attempted to take over India. The year was 1741 and the event, the Battle of Colachel.
All of these details are missing from the historical narrative of India because the conquerors were only interested in writing about their own victories. For a conquering culture to call anything before they arrived a period of darkness is not surprising. The British have previously tried to declare that Africa had no civilization of its own before it became colonized. They could not do the same with India as there was a definite existing civilization here. Instead, the story about the Aryan invasion in 1500 BC was floated by them. When we take a look at historical documents, there is no mention of an Aryan civilization or any Turks in the earliest Rigveda text. Additionally, there is no archaeological or generic evidence of any of this. And yet, amazingly we have continued to perpetuate this story line in our own history. Here the purpose is not to declare that everything that we have is indigenous, and nothing was brought on from invaders. The fact is that our civilization today is a result of many of the things that came from the outside. It is not the intention to present our history as a purely Hindu or Dharmic India because our history is enriched by experiences and people belonging to faiths and cultures and insights from outside.
All empires in the world colour the history according to their own perspective. There is one exception to this rule, and that is the Hindus of India. The reason for this is explored in the next part of this article, but in a nutshell, we can state that those who came into power in 1947, had a different agenda on their minds. To make this case, an example of King Ashoka can be discussed.
Asoka has been presented as a just and upright king and good guy in the historical text, but the fact is that everything we have been taught about him is a lie. If we analyse how Asoka happened to become the emperor of the Mauryan empire, there are some facts which are undisputed and hold general consensus. That Asoka was not the designated heir of the empire, that he happened to be in the city when his father passed away and took charge of the kingdom, that he used Greek mercenaries to overcome, kill and possibly burn the body of Bindusara, the Crown prince to the throne as he tried to enter the city of Pataliputra, is not argued by anyone. Following this, Asoka murdered all of his male siblings barring Tissa, who was his full brother, and he also killed a mass of Ministers and other people who may have opposed him. All of this is agreed upon by everyone.
The Mauryan religious traditions were unusual, as their court rituals were held in the Vedic tradition, however they were quiet eclectic in their personal lives. Chandragupta, grandfather of Asoka became a Jain monk in his later days. Bindusara followed the Ajiveika tradition, which possibly merged with the Natha stream of Shaivism, and of course there were the Buddhists. There was a lot of contention within the court and it is possible that Asoka sided with the Buddhists due to strategic reasons as the rest of his family were either Jains or Ajiveika. So, there was a political reason why he took on Buddhism. The story that we have been taught is that Asoka invaded Kalinga, and he massacred a lot of people, and then he felt sorry about doing so, and converted into Buddhism and became a pacifist. However, it is proved by going through the inscriptions that Asoka became a Buddhist BEFORE he attacked Kalinga and not after it. The other issue which is of him showing remorse and apologizing for the killings is also untrue, as going through his inscriptions in Orissa, this information is nowhere to be seen. Logically, if he felt remorse at killing all of those people, then his apology should be found in Orissa itself, but the so called apologetic inscriptions are far away from Orissa and can now be found in Pakistan. Additionally, a read through these inscriptions in detail presents a very different picture, compared to what appears in the snippets given in text books. The text basically shows him slightly apologetic for killing scores of people but in the next paragraph it goes on to say: “However you, forest tribe, do not think that just because I am feeling some regret having killed the Kalingas, do not think that I will not treat you in exactly the same way, if you do not behave yourselves.” The full inscription is accessible on the internet for anyone who might wish to check. And this doesn’t end here. Not only is this regret suspect, but later events show that Asoka went on to kill scores of other people following this incident. Asokavadana, which is a Sri Lankan Buddhist text about him, contains one case where he killed 18,000 Ajivikas In Bengal. Another case which could be considered very scary in the modern context is about a Jain who made a drawing which showed Buddha bowing to a Jain Tirthankara. As a consequence, the whole family of this Jain was locked up inside the house and set on fire. Additionally, it was announced by Asoka that he will provide a gold coin for the head of every Jain person presented to him. This fanaticism continued until someone chopped off the head of his last remaining brother Tissa by mistake and presented it to Asoka.
The liberals of today argue that these details were inserted into the text a couple of centuries later by fanatic Buddhists of Sri Lanka and thus may not be true. But the same theory can be applied to the whole popular text written about Asoka which puts him into an exalted light. The story of Asoka outlined above is based on exactly the same inscriptions which are used by mainstream historians, all of which are available online. Given that a long duration has passed since these incidents took place, it is entirely possible that this story is also not true and I accept that. But the fact remains that this version of events is supported by his own inscriptions available, whereas the more popular version is not. Additionally, if such a detail was available, why was it not at least introduced by the mainstream historians as an alternative narrative? On the contrary, scores of books have recently been published and a TV serial shown, all of which completely whitewash the massacres of Jains and Ajivikas carried out by Asoka. Another glaring evidence of how all commonly available narrative about Asoka is incorrect can be found at a cave called Hathi Gumfa, outside Bhubaneshvar. King Kharavela, who was an Oriya king from couple of centuries after Asoka was killed. The inscription by Kharavela says, “I went to Pataliputra and brought back the Jain idols which were taken away by Asoka. I have then made the king of Patalputra bend to me.” The impact of these words can be deciphered more clearly if one looks across from the cave and sees that right across, there is an older inscription at a temple on Dhauli hill, which is by Asoka. So one can deduce that King Dharavela was making a point to the dead Asoka by stating that we destroyed the Maurian empire and took back from you what you had taken from us by force. It is also interesting to know that Asoka lost his empire while he was still alive, and he who is narrated as a great ruler was unable to defend and maintain his own empire during his life.
To sum it up, the whole legend of Asoka seen through the text that exists as well as the behavior towards him of the subsequent warriors, clearly shows that this whole project was a complete failure. If anything, this can be noted down as the foremost and largest religious genocide carried out in the ancient Indian civilisation.
The question arises; why on earth did we create such a great story about Asoka. If we look at the Indian tradition, Asoka is not considered a great king. In fact, he was forgotten as he truly deserved. The British discovered Asoka in the 19th century by deciphering some of the Brahmni scripts and saw that he existed at some point. The British began to dig out the fact that Asoka existed, but his elevation to being the greatest is even more recent, as he started becoming prominent in historical literature in the 1920’s and 30s. It turns out that his elevation is directly related to the Nehruvian Socialism. In that era, it was becoming more and more clearer that in no time, India would become a free country. The younger generation of politicians which were coming up at the time needed a lineage for their ideological viewpoint. Essentially the place that one would look for a lineage would be the Arthashastra and there lied the problem. The Arthashastra is entirely inconvenient for someone looking to promote Socialism. Here I should also point out that those people who think that this is the Machiavelli of India, have got it wrong too, as the Arthashastra is nothing like the latter. It is a very well written text about how to run an empire once you have created it, and it was the work of a person who created one of the world’s greatest empires. Comparing the creator of the world’s most magnificent empire, which Chanakya was, to a small time political advisor is a useless exercise. Although there are some small sections on internal security and spies etc, the Arthashastra is also not about these things, it essentially talks about rules of law, taxation and other issues related to, how to run a kingdom. But the principles on which it is based is what I would a call a strong but a limited state. The Chanakyan state concerned itself with activities like defense, internal security, infrastructure and municipal order, coinage, taxation, and some very broad, big picture things. It was clearly not a Welfare State. In fact, Chanakya very clearly says that the state should not interfere in the life of the citizens and let them be happy with whatever they chose to do within their confines. He was particularly against prohibitions on the citizens as long as people are enjoying themselves and not interfering in public order. In areas where state should be paramount, Chankya had no sense of humour but beyond these particular areas, a state should not expand itself. So Chanakyan state was clearly not about interfering in people’s life, nor was it a welfare state. In such a state, the state would interfere if there was a calamity. When Nehru and his aides found this as an inconvenient fact, they began to look through the Indian history and find someone who shared their world view and that is when they came across Asoka’s inscriptions in which he continuously talks about how to interfere in people’s lives. In fact, he creates an entire cadre of people called the Dharma Mahamantra, what we today may call a religious police. These people would instruct the citizens on things which were prohibited on different days of the week. These instructions by Asoka were a reflection of micromanagement to the extent of running the state as a Nanny State. If one happens to be a Fabian Socialist, this would seem like a wonderful idea to them. His character was taken out from the history and dust him off, hide all the massacres he did, and he was presented as Asoka the great. This is the history of Asoka, a completely fabricated story which was pulled out of the annuls of history by the British for their own purposes, and then pushed him up by the Nehruvian Socialists who pushed him up to be this great king because it essentially suited their story and then whitewashed everything around him. The point of sharing all this is to state that most of our history is bunkum.
Now that we have determined this, we have to go about trying to correct our history. We must take the journey to dig up our own history and start telling it from our own perspective, because if we don’t do this now, it will be done for us by others who will have their own agenda. Fortunately, we live in a day and age where travel is easier, we have more access to books, so it is not that easy to fool everybody all the time. Therefore you and I have our work cut out for us and we must get about exploring and sharing our true history, for the benefit of our own as well as the future generations.