Thursday, July 5, 2012

Our Culture, History and Heritage - Some Thoughts

I am not biased towards anyone or anything - no matter what. I try my best to be as objective as possible and whatever I write - I do after thorough research and careful deliberation. To the best of my knowledge and ability, that is. So, with that anticipatory bail, let me begin my latest post.

Frankly, I think we are very callous about our own history, culture and heritage. We neglect history, but there is no present and no future - without the past. [Note: I tried my best to not let this one sound like the latest potboiler from KJo's stable. So, pardon me, if it does.]

However that's not all, we have even bettered it by letting foreigners to pen books about our history, culture and heritage; while we have become champions at rote learning and this has been our bane - for several centuries now, or perhaps a millennium.

We have - as a nation - outsourced the documentation and writing of our history, culture and heritage to foreigners - including the ones that have colonized us! We are more than happy to read those books and extremely content - to learn by rote - all that rests within their pages. Our generosity of spirit - is immeasurable indeed.

However rote learning of anything, even of our own history or culture - written by foreigners - is not the way forward. That is not how clarity comes or knowledge imparted.

And if we were to recollect what Lord Curzon (Viceroy to India from 1899-1905) wrote in his letter to Queen Victoria: that in order to keep up their superiority of race, culture, heritage and history - they needed to have colonized countries and colonized people, or words to that effect. Ever wondered what that says about their mindset?

Yet, how many of us have tried to know about the reign of say, Samrat Chandragupta Vikramaditya?

Very few! We have quite happily restricted him to Vikram and Betal.

How many of us have cared to learn about Chanakya, Varahamihir, Aryabhatta and Sushruta? How many of us have tried to or even wanted to read and know about our great warriors and freedom fighters?

A small faction amongst a multitude of item number addicts, no?

Umm, I recently discovered that chocolate consumption in India has nearly trebled since 2005. Though I continue to wonder why it doesn't reflect on our population graph then?!

But let me not digress.

Frankly, our history is a mix of lies and half-truths. We need to come out of this intellectual bog, this mind numbing quicksand - this double trap of rote learning + letting foreigners to write our history. We need to separate the grain from the chaff, 'coz it is us that has given the chaff the status of the grain - if I may say so.

But there's one more thing that piques my curiosity no end and that is the origin of the modern day Europeans - those who wield all the influence and power today.

A couple of millenniums ago several destructive martial and warlike clans and tribes abounded - in various parts of modern Asia.

Samrat Chandragupta Vikramaditya drove away many such mercenaries and tribes - the Sakas and the Huns (white and red) - are some examples, from modern Asia and established his writ over these lands.

Hannibal overran Europe and I presume destroyed a lot of their ingenious culture and people. Attila the Hun ravaged Europe too.

But, what happened to the progeny of these marauding hordes??

Hopefully they aren't writing our history and holding forth on our culture and heritage. Or forcibly brainwashing us into believing this fictitious Aryan Invasion Theory and racial superiority, among others?! Not that we are not to be blamed - for lapping it all up - without question.

Strangely, even our ancient itihasa (history) have been termed as mythology and epic and turned into fables of 'victory of good over evil' - when we simply do not have this concept of 'evil'.

Now, lets turn our attention towards Alexander the Great. The freshly minted PM of Pakistan - Raja Parvaiz Ashraf - is a Rajput from the Potohar region of Punjab. But the Potohar region of Punjab is famous for another Raja - Raja Paurav (also known as King Porus).

Our history tells us that the mighty Alexander defeated him, yet folklore in that area and its surroundings tell a different story.

There is a line of thought that Alexander the Great fought three major wars in his life and won two. And that the third one was papered over by the Greek historians - because he lost it - beaten back by the forces of Raja Paurav and the ancient Persians. And that this defeat stopped him from plundering this fabled land - of her riches.

That the story of his 'magnanimity' with Porus could very likely be a fantasy - to keep Alexander's aura intact?

Ancient India was a land of immense wealth and knowledge. Hordes of conquerors have charged in - some of them multiple times - in order to loot and plunder and carry away vast quantities of her wealth. What made Alexander - a marauding conqueror himself - suddenly turn altruistic?

And who are the original inhabitants of Europe or America? Who are the indigenous people - of these lands?

If we look at the ones who are clustered in some parts of Europe: the Swedes, the Norwegians - I mean, the Scandinavian people: they are very different.

Unfortunately, the death of several languages and tribes, as well as the systematic conversion of indigenous people or adivashis (tribals) - all over the world, to some or the other organized religion - has had devastating effects vis-à-vis written and oral history, heritage, scriptures, languages, culture and folklore. We simply have no idea of what has been lost - forever.

I wonder how much of our culture, heritage and history has been destroyed - thanks to the marauders from the west and the east (aided and abetted by home grown vested interests). How many of our ancient monuments have been captured and then renamed? And how many of them destroyed?

Perhaps our forefathers were prudent and farsighted, and therefore locked in our history, etc in coded texts and/or camouflaged language. We have not been able to unlock.

Yet sadly, we pay no attention to the Gupta era - especially to that of Samrat Chandragupta Vikramaditya, whose reign encompassed vast lands and predated Islam. We seem to have not only forgotten him, but also buried him deep - in the sands of time. He faded off the pages, while we banished him from our collective psyche. We periodically and selectively remember Samrat Asoka - but only to emphasize on his embracing 'ahimsa' (non-violence) bit and extolling of Buddhism.

But, what is it that played a major role in ensuring that we fell to barbaric and marauding hordes? Why is it that despite a glorious ancient history and a very prosperous early medieval era ... we suddenly declined so rapidly ... and have never recovered ever since?

Frankly, I wonder why there has never been an attempt to understand what has been the impact of Buddhism - when it flourished - on the society, over a period of time; especially its message of peace and ahimsa. And whether there has been a misunderstanding or misinterpretation somewhere.

Samrat Chandragupta Maurya's reign was also a golden era, and he too was a great Emperor and a very able administrator - also attested by the ancient Greek historian and diplomat, Megasthenes (the author of an account of ancient India, the Indica, in four books).

While Samrat Chandragupta Vikramaditya, to my mind, was and is the greatest Emperor - to have walked on this planet - in the current era: the Kaliyug. He was paternal and nurturing - of his praja (subjects), without having embraced Buddhism.

His empire stretched from Bali to the Baltic and from Korea to ancient Arvasthan. [Note: Arva in Sanskrit means, 'horse' and sthan refers to, 'land or place' - Arvasthan therefore signifies the land of horses.]

A lion-hearted, noble, generous, erudite and dutiful ruler, he was devoted to the welfare of his praja - his people, even those from vanquished lands. No subjugation, slave-taking, opium-cultivation, burning and pillaging for him. No discrimination on the basis of language, customs or colour of skin. Once he conquered a land, he did not indulge in rape and plunder nor leave behind devastated cities and rotting corpses, unlike the marauding hordes that came in from the east and the west and perpetuated untold atrocities over us - the vanquished people and land.

Vikramaditya reintroduced the Vedic way of life, built beautiful monuments, imparted education and established law and order; his paternal and filial rule ended an uneasy period of turmoil and ignorance, ushering in an era of tranquility in these conquered lands. This IS ahimsa my friend - the true essence of the doctrine of ahimsa. What phoren and phony pundits' have been preaching to us is pathetic, leading us to a dead-end.

Ahimsa concocted and Ahimsa imported - have only made us bite the dust. As to why various forces and nations are only too keen to serve us this version of ahimsa - I know not.

However, we continue to conveniently ignore that sthan is a Sanskrit word, meaning land or place. And despite the passage of time and various isms cropping up - the names of various nations stand testimony even today - silently proclaiming their Vedic heritage.

Still, we take no interest in learning about the ancient Kambuja Desa or Suvarnadvipa - the ancient Indian Colonies in the Far East.

And our history books are silent about the Egyptian king Tushratta and the queen Sitamen.

Parting Shot: The way things are ... I won't be surprised if we are also told that some Greco-Romans disguised as Rishi Valmiki and Maharishi Vedvyasa - penned the Ramayan and the Mahabharat!

Photograph: Pic courtesy: Link.


  1. Incidently i am reading chanakya's chant which is about chandragupta! Found your post extra interesting! Btw have you read shashi tharoor's the great indian novel? You may find it interesting!

  2. @ Preeti: Great! Do share your thoughts once you are done. Btw, it is about Chanakya too.

    PS: I am not fond of any cattleist :)