Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Purpose of History : An attempt to have a Hindu perspective

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I have been wondering the purpose History and if it is important to study history at all. This thought has been long brooding in my mind. It started with one of my many interactions with Shri. Parag Tope ji (Operation Red Lotus : 1857 - A must read book by every Hindu) decade ago. Topic started with his take on Baizabai Shinde and her role in 1857 war of independence. Goes to role of house of Amber (Kachwaha) and their role in Hindu history. So on and so forth. The recent foolishness of one comment in the court by one of the judges about descendants of Shri Raama etc made it fresh in my mind. It has to do with Rajiv Malhotra's term "History centrism". Indian religions aren't history centric while Abrahmic religions are dominantly so.

Problem is in India where memories run deep, some past mis-action by some group is always used to build a case against them. 

Example 1 : Holkar screwed up on Panipat (Whole Najib affair, relative inactivity on right flank perhaps with an understanding with Najib) is a fact. Now Holkar is also Dhangar and a Hindu hero. So one who criticizes Holkar, earns wrath of not just Dhangar community, but Hindutvavaadi people too - for Malharrao Holkar was one of the chief architects in almost all of the Bajirao's later and famous campaigns and also of the famous Attock campaign. This is just an example. Pure history was always kept among “classes”. We called them brahmins-kshatriyas - but mostly brahmins. And not all brahmins. Those who were associated with some royal court/archive or some gurukul. 

Now does this mean that public should be kept ignorant? No. 

Should they be taught of history so that they don’t repeat mistakes? Yes 

Do we need to teach them history as it is? Are events important or are the lessons important? Lessons in my opinion.

So - a romanticized history that comes through folklore for memory (which is polished and good where rough edges are rounded). A construct like panchatantra where fox lion and hyena had a battle and a fox made deal with hyena calling him a “manasputra” thereby leading to defeat of the lions is easy to build. When we replace actual historical names with animals, we dehumanize them (in a positive way) and then this history doesn't have the baggage of name-surname-caste-clan-region (that we wish not to push away).

Example 2 : Ahilyabai was a great hero. She did monumental job at temple revival etc. But most of that work was done by evading taxes (many letters by Madhavrao available which threatens her to pay up or else...). We know her temple rebuilding is monumental work for Hindu civilization. But those us who have read history also know how finances were a problem for Marathas till the very end. If finances were good and they had enough resources (which is doable in a very rich country like India if people do not evade taxes), Marathas wouldn’t have folded so easily.

Example 3 : My own ancestors evaded taxes by building Ram temples here and there because Raghuji Bhosale of Nagpur was a Rambhakt and would let the money spent on Ram temples go. So that was the loophole extracted by his subordinates (like my ancestors) to keep larger chunk of wealth.

So is temple-building more important or paying up taxes regularly to a Hindu state so that they can do warfare and liberate India (more of it and more efficiently) more important? Karma is mysterious. It always comes to bite you. All of us contributed towards the downfall of Hindavi svarajya by our petty actions. Just as all of us contributed in some capacity to build it and liberate India.

Question is : is it necessary to teach all this to public?

I am appreciating varNa-vyavasthaa more and more. I see the point. It is difficult (nay almost impossible) to implement it in these changed times. So not advocating it. But I begun seeing its point for past few years

There is a fascinating story of "past-birth" of Shivaji and Aurangzeb in "Chitnis Bakhar" written by Malharrao Chitnis (Grandson of Balaji Aavji - the secretary of Shivaji Maharaj and son of famous "Khando Ballal" - the bodyguard of Sambhaji Maharaj). It is a fascinating story which underlines how a "Hindu" views at its past and smooths the rough edges. 

In that story - in earlier birth, both Shivaji and Aurangzeb were devotees of Mahadeva and were doing tapasyaa in some cave in Himalaya. Mahadev got pleased and told them to ask for any boon. If my memory serves me correctly, A'zeb asked for power and Shivaji asked for dharma. So since the yuga that was to come was of Mlechha ascendancy, A'zeb was born in Mlechha kula while Shivaji was born in dharmik clan. Aurangzeb got power and Shivaji got to establish dharma on this earth - thus boon given to both by Shankara fructified.

I find this backstory very fascinating and very Hindu in character. If left alone, it would have smoothed and rounded all the rough edges of memory that Hindus have for Muslim atrocities. This is written when Muslims were defeated conclusively and Hindus emerged victorious after 27 year war. So actual physical defeat was ensured. There would be little threat from Muslims regaining the ascendancy in India after Marathas emerged victorious and Bajirao stormed North India. So from the perspective of Malharrao Chitnis, Hindu victory was done and dusted. And he is writing this chronicle from the perspective of a victor - Like Frodo writing memoirs of war of the ring after final victory from his perspective). 

But unlike accounts of Khafi Khan and other contemporary Muslim sources (& Xian sources), Hindu chronicles "did not rub it in". He is quite magnanimous in my opinion, to think of even Aurangzeb (who had brutally murdered a Hindu Chhatrapati, killed and persecuted millions of Hindus, desecrated their temples - just couple of decades ago, as a Shiva-bhakta who is simply living off his karma-phala (boon from Shiva). I find this very profound.

I feel there is sense of a profound wisdom in Hindu Historiography - and it is used by Indologists to criticize Hindus : That Hindus do not maintain historical records. The first real "Hindu historical record" that passes the test of modern Indologists is Kalhana's RaajatarangiNi. Before that Deepavamsha and Mahaavamsha are Buddhist historical records during Ashoka's time which pass Indological test. No "aastika" record before Kalhana passes this western test of being an "authentic history". I am proud of this wisdom by Aastikas.

Records like these (which pass modern Indological or Historiographical tests as "authentic history") sets the narrative in stone. It cannot be altered by anyone without perpetual misgivings. It works in west where society is already broken and state has assumed the role of God (no family, clan, caste etc is strong enough to be an alternate support system for individual)

In India, caste-clan-family is very much alive and thriving. It is anathema to Indian setting. It is not that Hindus (or aastikas) did not know how to keep historical records. 

But they were wise enough not to make it publicly available (in all its grey shades) and make the narrative set in stone. Instead they created stories like Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Vikram-vetala etc to pass on important historical lessons that MUST be passed on to generations and masses. A quick criticism of this. Same argument is also given by Romila Thapar types to whitewash Islamic atrocities in history for ensuring communal harmony. They too smoothen the rough edges of Islamic history. However this is fundamentally different from Hindu approach. I guess there are phases of history where all the linens are washed out in open for everyone to see. We are in that phase.

In the end it all boils down to choosing a side, doesn't it?

Finer details - are irrelevant for real purpose.

The real purpose is - sustenance of "dharma".

Shri Raam....