Sunday, February 19, 2023

India, not a nation of losers

(Pragyata, Nov 2022) You Hindus have never done anything noteworthy, let alone brave or creative, that the foreigners who forever kept coming to subdue you, could have admired. Or at least that is the message Hindu readers, cinema-goers and schoolchildren get to consume. It is time to correct this negative self-image, as numerous observers muse, but the historians willing and able to transmute this pious intention into cold print haven’t been forthcoming in appreciable numbers. Communal history That is where a new generation of historians is stepping in. Foremost among them is Vikram Sampath, who made his name with a two-volume biography of Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. His newest book, Bravehearts of Bharat, is about a series of freedom fighters that might as well have included Savarkar, but stops short at India’s formal passing into the status of British colony in 1858. It starts with Lalitaditya of Kashmir, who confronted among others Junayd al-Murri, successor as Arab governor to India’s first Muslim invader, Mohammed bin Qasim, but also Tibetans, pre-Islamic Turks; and ends with Begum Hazrat Mahal of Awadh, who fought the British. Note the large proportion of women among these fierce warriors, six of the fifteen whose story is narrated here. Moreover, two of them were Muslim: Chand Bibi of Ahmednagar, who fought against Akbar, and Begum Hazrat Mahal of Awadh, who took part in the Mutiny, now increasingly called (after Savarkar) the “First War of Independence”. This term has passed into the Congressite version of history in that it showcases a Hindu-Muslim unity against the British, as against the “communal” (Savarkarite!) emphasis on Hindu-Muslim conflict. The reader won’t notice any religiously partisan attitude in the description of their lives by the historian whom the Left has dubbed “Savarkar’s apologist”. Nonetheless, here and there the sheer facts of history will make the reader draw his own conclusions. Thus, most readers will know the defection in 1565 of the Muslim units of the Vijayanagar force in the battle of Talikota against a Muslim coalition, which transmuted an assured victory into a lethal defeat for the last remaining Hindu empire. Even for them it may be news that this was a repetitive behaviour pattern, e.g. in 712, “about 500 Arabs who were in [king of Sindh] Dahar’s army (…) deserted Dahar as they were reluctant to attack their co-religionists”. (p.12-13) Therefore, skeptics will doubt Sampath’s generous (or Congressite) characterization of Hazrat Mahal’s motive for engaging in the revolt of 1857: after the Indians’ defeat against the British she gained asylum in Nepal and had a “Hindustani Masjid” built there, “named in honour of the country she so dearly loved”. (p.320) Freedom Fighters like Savarkar and their purported heirs in Congress and other secularist circles like to affirm the patriotic motive, but this conceals that the Mutiny was a kind of mutual deception in which the Hindus sought to bring back the Maratha empire while the Muslims sought to re-establish the Moghul empire, which had never ceased to see itself as a foreign occupying force in a country that its founder Babar had cursed, and that was administered in a foreign language till the last. Everybody develops an attachment to his cradle-land, but was it this that motivated Hazrat Mahal, or was it zeal for the remains of a Muslim empire now dissolved by the British infidels? The one does not exclude the other. Martyrdom and victory The list of bravehearts was not selected for their martyrdom, though a few also tasted that. Thus, Banda Singh Bahadur, who pioneered Sikh military endeavour through the Khalsa founded by Guru Govind Singh but was at last captured and tortured to death by Moghul troops; or Rani Abbakka who ended up being captured by the Portuguese and dying in captivity, but was selected here for the more impressive list of defeats she had first inflicted on them. Most heroes here are spectacular and perpetual winners, such as Rajaraja and Rajendra Cola, or Lachit Barphukan. Of the Colas you have at least heard the name, and perhaps even that their policy was uniquely expansionist in that they conquered Eastern India and much of Southeast Asia, a counterpoint to the usual narrative that the Hindus never colonized foreign territories (mouthed both by pooh-poohers of Hindu valour and by Gandhi-style Hindu apologists). For details about their career, you can now turn to the accomplished historian Vikram Sampath, virtually the first to deal with this episode since KA Nilakanth Sastri’s History of South India (1955). But just as spectacular and certainly newer is his chronicle of Lachit Barphukan’s achievements. Indian schoolkids and grown-ups have been led to believe that until Shivaji in the late 17th century, Hindus had been totally helpless against the Muslim invaders. If you look at historical maps, the speed and magnitude of their conquering advances is no doubt impressive. Yet they were not infinite, sometimes because natural hurdles came in the way (thus, they failed to conquer Nepal), but often because Hindu resistance stopped them. That neither the Delhi Sultanate nor the Moghul Empire ever included Assam, was not for lack of trying. The champion of this successful resistance by the Ahom dynasty was Lachit Barpukhan (locally pronounced Borphukan), whose name deserves a similar aura as that of Shivaji (of whom he was a contemporary) or Peshwa Bajirao. He defeated the Moghul invasion force repeatedly, most spectacularly in the battle of Saraighat of 1671. Though the Ahoms ultimately fell due to an invasion, after six centuries, it was one from Burma (just like the Colas, the Buddhists too broke the stereotype with their foreign conquests), but the attempts at conquest from the Muslim-held Ganga plain were all fruitless. Nationalism The perspective of this book is clearly nationalist. More than the reader of his Savarkar biography will expect, Sampath does not hesitate to highlight episodes of Hindu-Muslim cooperation, not just against external enemy like the British but also against co-religionists. Secularists will hail this as proof that religion doesn’t matter, but history shows that Muslims at some point remember their religious duty vis-à-vis others whereas Hindus remain trusting of others until it is too late. To name the best-known examples: Jayachandra of Kannauj thought he could use an alliance with Mohammed Ghori against his rival Prithviraj Chauhan of Delhi, but after the victory over Prithviraj he ended up defeated by Ghori too; and Mahatma Gandhi imagined he could enlist the Caliphate movement into the Freedom Movement but only triggered the Moplah jihad against the Hindus of Kerala. That is why I see a need here to repeat that “nationalism is a misstatement of Hindu concerns”. Then again, the identification with India is at least a part of Hinduness. In Savarkar’s Hindu-nationalist (“Hindutva”) definition, a Hindu sees India not only as his Holyland (as a Western Hare Krishna might also do), but also as his Fatherland. For them, unlike for Muslims or Christians, India is not an area of expansion, a colony, but since forever their cradle. The Israeli historian Yoram Hazony shows in his dissident book The Virtue of Nationalism (2018) that nationalism was a great step forwards in the human evolution from a purely local viewpoint to an identification with a larger community mostly consisting of people you don’t personally know; and in India’s case, who fall outside your primary community: your caste. That is why Savarkar was a activist against caste. So from a viewpoint of social justice, this much-maligned ideology is not without its merits. It was one of the pillars of the French Revolution: the “brotherhood” pillar next to “liberty” and “equality”. So it may be a good thing if Indians, including Muslims, are reminded of their common nationhood. And of the virtues it produced, including bravery. Vikram Sampath: Bravehearts of Bharat. Vignettes from Indian History. Viking/Penguin Random House, Delhi 2022, 334 pp., Rs.799.
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Thursday, February 16, 2023

Let the “Aryan” debate become a debate again

(13 Feb 2023, South Asia News & Bridge India) The last thirty years, there have been plenty of lectures, papers and now online videos promising to “debunk the Aryan Invasion Theory” (AIT). Their impact has been very poor, essentially limited to Hindu students, not even Hindu politicians. But outsiders, particularly the champions of that same AIT, have barely noticed this wave of attempted refutations, and certainly haven’t felt moved by them to rethink their assumptions. Let us first get our terminology straight. Squeamish AIT scholars are making everyone toe their line that instead of an “invasion” there was an “immigration”. They have to, for unlike in Europe, where the “Aryan” (meaning Indo-European-speaking, IE) invasion from the steppes ca. 2800 BCE was a dramatic and sometimes genocidal event, India presents no evidence at all of such foreign conquest in the period considered. So they shifted to the thesis of a subtle infiltration under the archaeological radar, yet revolutionary in its impact: unlike the Scythians, Greeks, Huns or Kushanas, these intruders succeeded in not just conserving their language and religion, but imposing both on the far more numerous natives. Well, the word “invasion” is not about the means used, but the resulting power equation: it’s an “immigration” if the foreigners adapt, but an “invasion” if they take power. And this is clearly what the supposed Aryan invaders did. So it was definitely an invasion, but we won’t insist: even with an “immigration”, it remains the “AIT”. The IE language family was discovered by a French Jesuit living in South India, Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux. In 1767, he sent a paper to the Academy in Paris in which he showed the close kinship of Sanskrit with Latin and Greek. The French freethinker Voltaire soon publicized it and concluded that European culture and its treasures had originated on the banks of the Ganga. This was taken over by other leading intellectuals like Immanuel Kant, and note that they spontaneously assumed India as the land of origin of the IE family. The Out-of-India Theory (OIT) is not a recent “concoction” by Hindu Nationalists, as widely alleged, but was thought up by 18th-century Europeans. In India, the new insight was given currency by justice William Jones speaking in Kolkata 1786. Note about his speech what admiration he expresses for the Sanskrit language, deemed superior to Latin and Greek. Indomania was widespread at the time, best represented by Friedrich Schlegel’s 1808 book Language and Wisdom of the Indians. This goes completely against the widespread Hindu rumour that IE linguistics stemmed from “racist colonialism”. Most of India was not a colony yet, and the heyday of racial thought contaminating “Aryan” studies had yet to arrive. However, another consideration started to undermine the dominant position of the OIT. Linguists realized that Sanskrit was not the mother but merely an elder sister of the other branches. There was a distance between the putative language of origin (Proto-Indo-European, PIE) and Vedic Sanskrit, and this translated into a possible distance between the Homeland and India. Not really compelling logic, for languages can evolve while staying in the same place; but this change of opinion won through. What made the scales tip was probably August Schlegel’s proposal in 1834 that the Homeland lay in or near the Caucasus mountains. Bible-thumpers had already thought of Armenia, where Noah’s Ark had landed: the Aryans were deemed the descendants of Noah’s son Jafeth. Successive Homeland theories after this would rarely move away sharply from the Caucasus area. Since Gordon Childe’s choice in 1926 for the Don-Volga region, this area has mostly remained the favourite, today known as the Yamnaya (“pit-grave”) culture. But the OIT school did not give up. The defence was taken up again by Europeans living in India. The most prominent and surprising figure here is Mountstuart Elphinstone, a proverbial colonialist. After his retirement as governor of Bombay, he wrote a History of India. Among his arguments, the most compelling is that no Hindu scripture gives any indication of a foreign origin: “There is no reason whatever for thinking that the Hindus ever inhabited any country but their present.” (1841) Yet this could not save the OIT. In the mid-19th century, two developments served as nails in its coffin. One was the start of Linguistic Paleontology, the “science” of discovering a language’s habitat from its vocabulary. Thus, it was realized that PIE flourished in a society familiar with wheeled transport: six words for the cart and its parts exist throughout the daughter languages and must have existed in PIE. Now for the Homeland question, it was deemed significant that there were words for cold-climate species like birch tree, wolf and bear. This doesn’t really refute the idea of an Indian Homeland, for these species also occur in India, which has islands of cold climate. Recently, OIT mastermind Shrikant Talageri has shown that hot-climate species like ape, lion and elephant are equally present in the PIE lexicon, and they are hard to reconcile with a northern climate zone. But back then, the exclusion of India as a Homeland candidate won the day. The other factor was the appearance of Veda translations which followed the then-emerging racial paradigm. Thus, in the Rg-Vedic description of the Battle of the Ten Kings, it was commonly pretended that the enemies were “black aboriginals”. In reality, the names of the kings and of their tribes (most notably Dâsa, Dasyu) are recognizably Iranian, and their characterization as “the black tribe” is a mistranslation. The word Asiknī does not refer to a skin colour, but to the area they come from, the basin of “the Black River”, the Vedic name of the Chenab. This way, several racialist distortions, perhaps made in good faith because of the racialist Zeitgeist, created the impression that an Aryan invasion into India had been described by the Vedic composers themselves. It thus became futile to deny the AIT. The ensuing political abuse of the AIT by the British colonialists and even by the National-Socialists could not inspire the Indo-Europeanists to a rethink. After 1945, the “Aryan” political discourse went out of fashion in the West, but in India its political use by Christian missionaries, Ambedkarites (though not BR Ambedkar himself, an articulate opponent of the AIT), Dravidianists and Nehruvians continued. In the West this has not been noticed till today. Hilariously, the few Western scholars who have heard of the OIT at all, claim that it is “a politicized concoction”, when in fact it is their own AIT that has played a poisonous role in Indian politics all along. The OIT started a second life in 1982, when KD Sethna published the book Karpasa (cotton), showing that cotton was common in the Harappan cities (starting 2600 BCE), and in Sanskrit writings younger than them, but not yet in the Rg-Veda. He concluded that the Rg-Veda largely predated them. This high chronology is detrimental to the AIT, which postulates an Aryan invasion (importing the Vedic language) only in the 2nd millennium. In 1984 the US archaeologist James Shaffer showed that there is zero archaeological proof for an Aryan invasion, including a peaceful immigration. Indian archaeologists became more outspoken about their findings to the same effect. Even BB Lal, long the main archaeological supporter of the AIT, shifted to the position: “Vedic and Harappan are two sides of the same coin.” Several linguists and historians joined in, and latterly some geneticists: people of the same academic rank as any pro-AIT professors you can cite. Until the millennium year 2000, there had been many voices doubting or plainly rejecting the AIT, and contributing many little arguments from linguistics or archaeology, all indirect evidence, but a clear alternative was lacking. Shrikant Talageri, after a preparatory book in 1993, then broke through the wall of ignorance about the enigmatic Vedic age. In The Rigveda, an Analysis, and its 2008 sequel, The Veda and the Avesta, he pioneered a convincing OIT, which should henceforth count as the OIT. This work is, as I have been able to verify at Indo-Europeanist conferences, completely unknown in the West and also in India’s AIT camp. Whereas the mere handful of OIT thinkers know the AIT quite well and often write answers to it, the well-established AIT doesn’t really get beyond derogatory comments on the OIT and stonewalls all arguments in its favour. Around the year 2000 there was a little bit of dialogue, mostly thanks to the American scholar Edwin Bryant (the coiner of the term “OIT”), but this has remained a blip. Today, the AIT camp is a happy valley protected from the rising waters of counter-evidence by a protective dam. But the waters keep rising, and the time can't be far off when the waters will overcome the dam and drastically impact the cosy life in the valley. Dr. Koenraad ELST, °Leuven (Belgium) 1959, is an Oriental Philologist & Historian and a prominent old hand in the “Aryan” debate.
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Sunday, February 12, 2023

Why “Itihasa” means “history”

(India Facts, 10 Feb 2023) Physician Pankaj Seth’s article “Myth, History, Itihaasa, and the Hindu Dilemma” (India Fact, 7 February 2023) raises the question: “So how old is the Mahabharata, or the Ramayana, or the Vedas? Does it matter that we find out? Can we really find out? Should one even think about it?” The historian’s answer to each of these questions is unambiguously yes. Each of these texts is a human artefact. This may sound a little controversial because we have a great many scripture-thumpers who swear that at least the Vedas, but in many respects even the epics (certainly parts of them, like the Bhagavad Gita), are divine revelation standing far above history. But if we stop talking about them and start looking into them, we notice their unmistakable historicity. Human, all too human Their language changes, from Vedic Sanskrit evolving through successive layers of the Vedas down to the Classical Sanskrit of the epics. They relate human events like weddings, wars, and the artists’ never-ending search for patronage, all far below God’s dignity. Their technology evolves, with the Rg-Veda squarely in the Bronze Age, which archaeologists date between the mid-4th and the mid-2nd millennium BCE. The Mahabharata is centred around a chariot battle, which points to a specific historical window. The first war-ready chariots found by archaeologists hardly date beyond 2000 BCE (so a Mahabharata battle beyond 3000 BCE is out of the question), and by Roman times, chariots had become a plaything, used for entertainment in the arena. But in between we have, in the later second millennium, wars involving the Mitanni kingdom, the Hittite empire and Pharaonic Egypt fought with war chariots. Recent finds point to India as the homeland of this technology, so here it may be centuries earlier, but only a few. We are also helped by contingent discoveries like the desiccation of the Saraswati river, dated to around 1900 BCE: the Rg-Veda still knows it as a mighty river, so it must be older; while the Mahabharata has Krishna’s brother go on pilgrimage to the Saraswati rivulet’s disappearing-point, so it must be younger. Another less-than-divine aspect of Hindu scriptures is that, like all human endeavours, they are located somewhere. It mentions elephants but no kangaroos or giraffes, and describes mountains, rivers and forests of northwestern India. In the case of the Ramayana, a debate is ongoing since the 1950s (and has recently been poked up again by Jijith Nadumuri Ravi’s book Geography of Ramayana) whether the sites usually located in South India are not more to the north, such as Kishkindha near present-day Bhopal and Lanka on an island in the Narmada river’s mouth near present-day Surat. The question is still open and we won’t decide it here, but the point is that it presupposes one specific geographical location rather than another,-- like any other human event. There is no reason why we should exempt these literary compositions from the treatment given by scholars to other books: asking where and when, as also why. The why behind the epics is fairly clear: they have a didactic value, they want to teach through illustration certain virtues: Sita’s loyalty to her husband, Rama’s loyalty to his father and to his people, Vidura’s practical wisdom, Arjuna’s overcoming his all-too-human doubts. This they would do even if the events described in them had been pure fantasy. But they also have a historical value, basing themselves on events that really happened in the lives of characters that really existed. Whether the whole story of Rama’s itinerary (to comply with his father’s forced promise to his youngest wife, and next to recover his own abducted wife) is historical, we don’t know for sure. These are events that have happened to many (e.g. young Genghiz Khan had to go and recover his abducted bride), so a generic narrative could arbitrarily have been applied to Rama. Then again, this is unlikely, for why would they have projected someone else’s life-story upon Rama? At any rate, Rama’s very existence can be deduced from his placement in the king-lists. Genealogies The king-lists? Of Egypt and Mesopotamia, no history could have been reconstructed without recourse to their king-lists, yet in the case of India, many scholars pooh-pooh these as another case of chaotic Hindu fantasizing. But no, upon scrutiny, they prove to be very consistent, interwoven with and corroborated by many other data in Hindu literature. All the prominent characters in the Vedas, the epics and e.g. also the early Buddhist sources fit neatly in these genealogies. Inconvenient for mainstream historians is mainly how far back they go. In Egypt, pre-pharaonic kings have been mentioned (e.g. the “Scorpion king”), and in India, a similar thing happens, but far deeper into the past. The oldest ancestors mentioned in the king-lists are patriarch Manu, his daughter Ila who becomes the foremother of the Lunar dynasty (including the Rishis, the Bharata dynasty and Krishna), and his son Ikshvaku who starts the Solar dynasty (including Rama, Mahavira and the Buddha). They predate the first beginning of the Rg-Veda by dozens of generations, easily beyond 4000 BC. Historians have their work cut out for them if they care to sit down and systematize the fragments of knowledge dormant in this source. In his introduction to this article, editor Ramesh Rao laments that Hindus are constantly told how “the accounts of our past in our epics and other texts are unreliable, a mixture of myth and hagiography”, so that the only serious sources about Indian history are those by foreigners: Arrianus (Greek), Xuan Zang (Chinese), Al-Biruni (Arabic-writing Persian). This negative comment is correct in so far that there is no clear chronological system behind Indian historiographical fragments, a remarkable weakness for a civilization that was at the forefront in so many other fields. This contrasts with the situation in China, where we know the exact date of every major event from the 9th century BCE onwards. But on the other hand, where the king-lists have only a relative but no absolute chronology, they have the merit of going back much deeper in time than any comparable source in other civilizations. No, India is not that backward. Embellished, but facts-based In the process of writing, the narrative was ideologically streamlined and embellished with supernatural feats, but its basis was purely historical. Indeed, it was instrumentalized as a framework for teaching Dharma and Yoga precisely because the stories about momentous events were popular and thus a good vehicle for reaching the people’s minds with any ideological message you wanted to propagate. The 19th-century scientist skepticism among academics towards ancient narratives, as if Homer’s Troy had never existed and Jesus had never lived (still popular among India’s secularists when applied to “superstitious” Hindu scripture), is an obsolete paradigm. Now we know that Homer (ca. 700 BCE) based himself on various stories about a real war over Troy that had taken place some five centuries earlier (the heyday of chariot warfare, prominent in the Iliad). And few scholars today will deny that Jesus, of whom we may doubt that he was born from a virgin or raised from the dead, had nevertheless been a really existing wandering exorcist-healer who fancied himself the Messiah/Christ (the “anointed” crown-prince, predicted to revive king David’s throne) and died on the cross. So similarly, the Kurukshetra war really happened, though the epic report on it has grown richer and more dramatic in the endless retelling. Even before seriously investigating Pankaj Seth’s question whether “the Mahabharata war [was] a small skirmish between two branches of a family or something bigger [that] involved people and regions beyond the immediate family fiefdom”, this basic insight into the common process of magnifying events in the retelling gives us an outline of an answer. Of course the historical core of the narrative was a more modest affair than the pan-Indian war that it has become in the final version. Thus, the involvement of the South-Indian dynasties (Chola, Chera and Pandya, non-existent at the time of the Bharata war) and of the foreign Yavanas (Ionians, known in India only since Alexander) and Chinas (used as a name for the Middle Kingdom only since the 3rd century BC) are clearly an attempt by the ultimate editors, writing centuries after the actual war, to give a pan-Indian significance and a relevance for their contemporaries to what had originally been a local affair of the Saraswati-Yamuna area. “Itihasa” In their book Sanskrit Untranslatables, Rajiv Malhotra and Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji make much of a difference between “itihasa” and “history”. Seth does the same: “Here we must distinguish between ‘History’ and ‘Itihaasa’. The former is the modern way and its obsessive winding the clock backwards towards some mythic t=0, some big bang, some absolute creation event. This is problematic because our origins have been being wrongly portrayed and we cannot find those origins nor identity significant markers by going this route. By contrast, Itihaasa points to ‘Satya’ as our origin and identity, and which reflects reality. So, Itihaasa, by pointing away from a merely materialist history, does a very important thing.” We venture to disagree. This is a case of over-interpretation, of reading far too profound contents in an ordinary translation challenge that professional translators would classify as a routine matter in their trade. Malhotra and Babaji think Itihasas “also contain historical facts, but are neither merely books of history, nor tales of fantasy”. Well, is “history” any different, in the premodern age? When Herodotus coined the term in the present meaning (it originally meant “investigation, inquiry”), he too produced history that falls far short of the academic requirements in today’s History Departments (or in Indian languages: Itihasa). It contained elements that we now would call fanciful or even mythical. So the difference is not between an Indian and a Western term, but between the premodern and the modern use of both the Indian and the Western term. “Trying to force fit historicity onto the itihaasa is to misunderstand what itihaasa means. One should not literally translate ‘it was thus’ and think/believe it refers to a material history.” Oh yes, it refers to “material” history. When, in the fourth generation after the Pandavas, sage Vaisampayana recited the brief first version of the epic (called Jaya, “Victory”), it is because he wanted to eternalize the facts of what had transpired on the Kurukshetra battlefield. It was the job of ancient poets to administer “undying fame” to their heroic employers. This is not Indian or Western, not cyclical or linear, just glory. Itihasa means Iti-ha-asa, “thus indeed it was”, and this is practically synonymous with the definition given by the 19th-century father of modern historiography, Leopold von Ranke: to reconstruct matters “as they really have been”. It all started as a historical account, “itihasa” in the modern academic sense. As the epic got bigger, more fantastic elements were added, but also very worldly elements spawned by an evolving self-interest of the class to which the editors belonged. This distorting of history has always been an occupational hazard. Thus, we see Rama fraternizing with the tribals (“monkeys”) without being troubled by any caste taboo. But in the younger seventh book of his epic, we see the blatantly casteist episode of Shambuka getting hung around the neck of a by then already divinized Rama, clearly interpolated to give divine sanction to the newly emerging caste discriminations. Similarly, the other epic starts with the caste-free love affair of sage Parashara and ferry-maiden Satyavati (a case of what would later be called varna-sankara, “caste-mixing”), from which the sage par excellence is born: Krishna Dvaipayana a.k.a. Veda Vyasa, the “editor of the Vedas”. Yet shortly thereafter, princess Draupadi refuses to let Karna compete for her hand because she thinks he is of low caste, clearly a later interpolation from the age of emerging casteism. These two seeming contradictions are not because of some uniquely Hindu mental property, but are very down-to-earth cases of projection of a later social concern onto ancient history. Such back-projection is bad history, it is a well-known ever-looming threat to good history, but does not put these passages outside the field of history. Myth-making But those all-too-human elements were not the only thing that was added. Seth correctly finds cases of “mythopoesis”, myth-making in the epics. For the people who had lived through the events, these were generally the most earth-shaking experience of their lives, so they saw them through lenses of the supernatural. The next thing they did was newly apply elements from older myths to fill gaps in the story or provide causal explanations for strange developments. Thus, a well-known mythical motif from pre-Vedic, proto-Indo-European days is the “narrowly-failed attempt to become invulnerable”. We know it is that old because we see it also appear in branches of the language family (annex literary traditions) far removed from India, too far to be explained by borrowing. Among the Greeks, Achilles is dipped in a magic potion but is held by his heel, so there he remains vulnerable and there he later gets killed. Similarly among the Scandinavians for Baldr and for Siegfried. Now, in the Mahabharata, this same motif makes two appearances: to become invulnerable, Duryodhana appears naked before his mother, whose eyes have acquired magic power after years of wearing a blindfold, but he is prevailed upon to wear a loincloth, and in that part of his body (euphemistically his “thigh”) he later gets killed. And Krishna receives an ointment from sage Durvasa, but while applying it to his skin, he remains standing on the soles of his feet, and that is where he is later lethally pierced by an arrow. These candidly mythical motifs, originating in the imagined world of the gods, are added later to make more sense of extraordinary historical events. We see the same in the Iliad, where for example the interactions of humans are explained as moves on a divine chessboard where the gods in a heavenly conference decide the fate of the mortals below. Likewise in the Bible, otherwise a source of remarkably good historiography for its time, we see the flood getting explained by God’s wrath. In fact this must be one of the most common mythical motifs of the ancient world: that behind dramatic storms lies the unchained wrath of a thundering Indra or other god. This way, the historical narrative based on a report of a real war, whether Homer’s collection of hearsay stories on the Trojan war or Sanjay’s eyewitness report to the blind king Dhrtarashtra on the Kurukshetra war, gets interspersed with mythical themes. These do not belong to the realm of history but are, indeed, “something which never was but always is”, as Joseph Campbell called it. Therefore neither the Iliad nor the Mahabharata can be called history in the modern sense, though they can be analysed into an approximative history plus a subsequent overlay of mythical themes. Down with decolonization! Finally I would like to dissent from Seth’s “decolonizing” concern: “We should not end up turning these grand epics into historical events for it would be a kind of vandalism that I hope we grow out of, something we engage in because we are trying to prove a point to westerners. We want to project history onto ‘Itihaasa’ because we have been stung by accusations that we do not have an ‘historical consciousness’.” The decolonization paradigm, now wildly popular, greatly exaggerates the importance of the colonial role division between the West and India. As a writer of the book Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, we confess guilt in contributing to this fashionable discourse. More than 75 years after Independence, we now think it unbecoming to pose as an adolescent rising in revolt against a colonial father who, in the real world, has long gone. Genuine freedom fighters like Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel achieved the real decolonization in 1947 and never spoke of India’s later problems in colonial terms. For them, from then on, India was responsible for itself. If India still gives a central role to English or follows a Constitution partly based on the British Government of India Act 1935, this is not because the British or any other outsider is imposing it on you, but because Indians have chosen it that way. Indian Nehruvians who carry an idealized West in their heads all the better to disparage the culture they try to “emancipate” themselves from. So likewise here, the critique that the epics fall short of the exacting criteria of modern historiography, is not a problem that Westerners are inflicting on you. India today has a whole corps of professional historians trained in the historical method, and they too can discern where the epics fall short of being history. Among them, nobody will insist that the epics are to be taken as literal history (though some Sanskrit professors will affirm this much). If you insist that the historical method was developed in the West and imported into India during the colonial period, we trust that it does not form part of the colonial legacy that you feel you have to rebel against and annihilate. Nor will you dismiss Indian historians who applied the historical method, like the formidable RC Majumdar, as merely “Westernized”. If Westerners really look down on your epics for falling short of the standards of modern history (which I doubt), or if Indians really feel inferior because of this (which is an attitude fostered by the West-oriented Nehruvians), it just shows a common misunderstanding: you are comparing apples with lemons. A Western (or indeed any) history textbook may contain a chapter on emperor Charlemagne’s campaign in Muslim-occupied Spain (ca. 800) but this will not be the epic Chanson de Roland (French: “Song of Roland”, about an officer in Charlemagne’s army), though the latter is based on (essentially) the same primary reports as the former. The West deems its own epics just as much different from history textbooks. To be sure, the standards of what counts as history-writing have improved, but that too is common between India, the West and other civilizations. So any normally educated Westerners will not expect from the Mahabharata that it be a history book. But he may distinguish between different parts of the epic. The first and most basic one, necessary to make the addition of the others possible, is the historical core. The idea that a story like that can be pure fantasy, is a modern notion, with novelists like JRR Tolkien inventing entire histories of civilizations, while in the old days stories were (at least dimly) based on real events. But then you have several types of later addition. The most profane is the cases of “presentism” by later editors: this projects data valid during the editors’ time onto the protagonists’ time. In reality, “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. This presentism, deemed the cardinal sin in historiography, can be a case of poor intellectual rigour, but it can also be a mendacious distortion in order to create a semblance of antiquity or of the blessings by a venerable figure like Rama or Krishna to strengthen a social institution in the editors’ own time. We have given examples of the projection of later emerging caste taboos on an older and less caste-conscious society. A possible case could also be the projection of later technologies onto ancient events (the way medieval paintings about Jesus in Palestine unselfconsciously have the house types and landscapes in the background that are typical of the painter’s own West-European location). But in the centre of the story this is very unlikely, e.g. that the Kurukshetra warriors use horse-drawn chariots can’t be a later interpolation. A glaring example of an anachronistic interpolation is the “horoscope of Rama”. While the Vedic age had its own notions of astrology, the specific discipline of individual horoscopy was brought from Babylon into India by the Greeks in the first centuries of the Common Era. The birth chart attributed to Rama gives to the perfect man the fitting planetary positions: the planets are in “exaltation” as per the rules of Hellenistic astrology. It must have been added at the very end of the editing process, many centuries after Rama and Valmiki. That some Hindus use it to establish Rama’s birth time is tragi-comical. The other type of addition concerns the mythical contents. These may be the fruit of the poet’s imagination, e.g. in the Ramayana the flying Vimanas (a kind of helicopter, though originally a word for tower); partly borrowed from an existing array of mythical motifs shared by the editors’ culture. The above-mentioned almost-achievement of invulnerability is one example, Arjuna’s profitable son-father relation with Indra another, Sita’s similar daughter-mother relation with the Earth yet another. Finally, we have purely didactic additions. We all know of the insertion of the Bhagavad Gita, which after its initial motivation of Arjuna concentrates on explaining the Sankhya-Yoga philosophy. It takes the form of the oldest core of the epic, with Sanjay doing his reporting to Dhrtarashtra; this could be a device by its writer to give it more authority, but the Gita happens to be very interwoven with the rest of the text. At least this reminds us of the unavoidable problem of a chronology of all the layers of a text composed over more than a millennium. Another didactic addition is the Anugita, yet another the long explanation of the Sankhya worldview in the Shanti Parva. The epic was used as the best possible conduit for a message deemed important by its writers, since the narrative had become popular shortly after its emergence. So… Seth asks: “How can we respond to our critics and to those who mock us as ‘ahistorical’ nonentities?” Answer: by telling the truth about yourself. Next to the pioneering contributions of India in geometry, calculus, astronomy, hydraulic technology etc., and its unique foundational work in linguistics, it ought not to be insurmountably difficult to practise modesty and face the fact that India was less than average in history-writing. Its clumsy history-writing nonetheless goes deeper into the past than that of any other country, which is not bad at all, but its absolutely chronology is indeed disappointingly vague. What would you want? Only Allah is perfect. But the fact that your epics are something else than history manuals, that on top of a historical foundation they built a literary masterpiece including fanciful and mythological elements as well as profound philosophical teachings, that is not something in need of special justifications, let alone self-depreciating apologies. Arise, Arjuna!
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What the Rāmāyaṇa tells us about itself

(Swarajya, 6 March 2023) We are lucky that we can devote a book review to Jijith Nadumuri Ravi’s The Geography of Ramayana. A Geographical Journey into the Rama Era (Notion, Delhi 2023), a swift sequel to his geographical analysis of an earlier scripture: Rivers of the Rg-Veda (ibidem 2022). This book draws our attention to numerous geographically or historically consequential details in the epic, which often yield unexpected information. And this, the former ISRO space scientist Nadumuri does with great rigour, contrasting with the endless wishful thinking of so many self-styled history rewriters. Nadumuri is not the first scholar who refuses to accept the Ramayana geography that has come down to us. In the 1950s already, the skeptical Marxist DD Kosambi, followed by HD Sankalia and a string of later “rationalists”, already doubted that Rāma had ever gone that far south, certainly not as far as Rāmeśvaram or Śrī Laṅkā. But precisely because of their principled skepticism, their denial of serious value to an epic poem that had become a Hindu scripture, their criticism of the traditional reading lost some of its force. A priori, Leftists tended to dismiss the epics as little more than fantasy. In the late 19th century in Europe, the scientist vogue had similarly dismissed all ancient tradition as mere invention: Troy did not exist, the Hittites mentioned in the Bible had not existed, even Jesus had been no more than a product of fantasy. This approach was still being imitated in India in the late 20th and even in the 21st century, and praised by the secularists as a refreshing contrast to Hindu obscurantism. The epics and real history But in fact, this approach is quite obsolete. While the academics pooh-poohed the legend of Troy, an amateur went to excavate the site that geographically corresponded to Homer’s Troy, and he found the city. Shortly after, the Hittite language was discovered and proved to explain some names of Trojan heroes. At once, the Biblical references to a hitherto unknown Hittite people (to which e.g. Esau’s two wives belonged) also proved historical. About Jesus, no serious scholar will repeat today that he didn’t exist. That he was God’s only-begotten son, born from a virgin, resurrected from the dead, the redeemer from sin, or the Messiah (“anointed one”, the heir to king David’s throne), those are items of faith, up for discussion and doubt. But that an exorcist and purported healer roamed Palestine, that he fancied himself the Messiah, and that he died on the cross, are now generally accepted as historical facts. So, Nadumuri takes the present text seriously. This starts with genealogical data, where he makes a productive use of the king-lists. These are another such artefact from ancient literature that Indian “rationalists” mock. However, the histories of Mesopotamia and Egypt would be nowhere but for their local king-lists. In India too, these are the most reliable part of the Itihāsa-Purāṇa literature. To explain this phrase “most reliable”, it is worth quoting Nadumuri’s unassailable assessment of the degrees of soberness versus fantasy in the different parts of Hindu literature: “Despite being poetry, RV [Ṛg-Veda] is mostly devoid of magical narratives. RV does describe boons and curses. They cause mental discomfort. But they don’t cause any physical transformations like turning a man into an animal or such magical effects found in the Itihāsa Purāṇas. The nouns that come close to the word ‘curse’ in RV are Aghaśamsa (evil wish) and Abhiśasti (blaming). The noun Śāpa appears only in RV 10 (the 10th Maṇḍala of RV) meaning evil wish, damnation, or blaming. Vara (boon) mentioned in RV has nothing magical. It represents a general blessing like that of Indra to his worshippers. Similarly, there are no divine weapons (Divyāstras) mentioned in RV. The noun Vimāna is used to poetically describe the act of the sun moving through the sky, in the sense that it ‘measures out’ the sky. In the Vedas, the Ṛṣis aspire to live for 100 years considering it as a very long life. The Purāṇic poets describe people as living for 1000s of years.” (p.29) Many Hindu readers will be curious as to what this no-nonsense historian makes of the Vimāna, so often cited as proof of how their ancestors already had helicopters; so we will let you share in Nadumuri’s insights: “Vimāna – a vehicle that can fly in the sky based on the will of the rider -- could be a Poetic Imagination of Vālmīki himself. The imagination of flight is very ancient in human pre history, in all the cultures across the globe. Vimāna originally meant the tall towers of the cities. They contain balconies where people can stand and watch the ground from an elevation. If Vālmīki were to stand inside one of them, it could trigger the feeling that the static Vimāna is somehow flying in the sky, carrying the people standing inside them.” (p.31) He analyses the occurrences of Vimānas more closely (p.359) and concludes that in those cases where they are flying vehicles, this has all the characteristics of poetic imagination. “The concept of a flying Vimāna that can go to any place based on the will of the person using it, was thus born in the mind of the poet. This is the world’s first science-fiction.” (p.67) Rāma and Śantanu We see history shade over from mostly sober and factual in the Vedas to a more embellished and sometimes purely fantasized form in the Itihāsa-Purāṇas. Yet, the part that was least tampered with, that was learned by heart and arguably formed the first reason for composing quasi-historical literature, were the king-lists. We skip the flood of light that Nadumuri throws upon the genealogical information in the early Veda and the later Mahābhārata, and focus on his startling coordination of the Rāmāyaṇa with the Vedas’ end and the Mahābhārata’s beginning. As year of the Mahābhārata battle Nadumuri takes 1783, the time calculated by Ashok Bhatnagar on astronomical grounds, and he correlates this with newer archaeological findings of Ochre Coloured Pottery (with newly-appearing hoards of weapons), certified by the Archaeological Survey of India to date to the 18th century BC, and with the known timing of the Sarasvatī’s desiccation. He thus rejects oft-cited traditionalist dates like 3139 BC, or other dates thereabouts or even millennia earlier. The great-grandfather of the Kaurava and Pāndava warriors is Śantanu. His stepson is Kṛṣṇa Dvaipayana who becomes the final editor of the Veda-TrayĪ, hence nicknamed Veda-Vyāsa. This Vyāsa is also the sperm donor who stands in for his early-deceased half-brother VicitravĪrya in order to father upon the latter’s widows the sons Dhrtarāṣṭra and Paṇḍu, thus becoming the grandfather of the Kauravas c.q. the Pāṇḍavas. The Vedas seem to confirm this historical placement of Vyāsa: his stepfather Śantanu is the last human being mentioned in the Ṛg-Veda, his biological son Dhrtarāṣṭra the last person mentioned in the Yajur-Veda. (The Atharva-Veda took a few generations longer, with Arjuṇa’s grandson Parīkṣit, or Vyāsa great-great-grandson, as the youngest person mentioned.) Nadumuri teaches his Hindu readers to candidly read the historical parts of the Vedas as an account of what really happened, and to outgrow the tendency to cramped literalism that too many Hindus have come to accept as a condition of proper piety before Scripture. Thus, it is commonly believed that the Parāśara who was with his grandfather Vasiṣṭha in the early-Vedic Battle of the Ten Kings was the same man who sired Vyāsa: Vasiṣṭha sired Śakti sired Parāśara sired Vyāsa, which would mean that the dozens of generations between the early Ṛg-Veda and its final editing get reduced to just four generations. So more realistically, the Vasiṣṭha (and similarly Bharadvāja and Viśvāmitra) who is part of Rāma’s life is a descendant of but not identical with the early-Vedic sage of that name. No: “The Early-RV Vasiṣṭha (the priest of Sudās), Śatayātu and Parāśara are mentioned as the witnesses of the Dāśarājña Battle (7.18.21). As per RV Anukramaṇi, Śakti composed the hymn RV 7.32. (…) These Vasiṣṭha, Śakti and Parāśara belonged to Early-RV. The Late-RV Vasiṣṭha composed many hymns in RV 9 & 10. The Late-RV Śakti composed the hymns RV 9.97 and RV 9.108. The hymn RV 9.97 was jointly composed by his son Parāśara Śāktya. Śakti’s descendent Gaurivīti Śāktya composed RV 10.73 and RV 10.74. Thus, there were individuals by the name Vasiṣṭha, Śakti and Parāśara in Late-RV too. The Vasiṣṭha and Śakti of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa and the MBh were Late-RV and different from the Early-RV ancestors. The Late-RV Vasiṣṭha is contemporary to Aja. Vasiṣṭha’s son Śakti is contemporary to Aja’s son Daśaratha. Śakti’s son Parāśara is contemporary to Rāma and hence also to Śantanu. Parāśara’s son Vyāsa is contemporary to Rāma’s son Lava and also to Śantanu’s son Vicitravīrya. This perfectly matches with the chronology of MBh.” (p.403) Alright, that was a long run-up before coming to our points. Firstly, according to Nadumuri, Rāma is the same person as the Rāma mentioned as a mighty one among the sponsors in RV 10:93:14, so in the very last stage of the RV. It already stood to reason that Rāma belonged somewhere in the long Vedic age, but this specification toward its very last phase is somewhat surprising. Equally surprising is that he would be mentioned in the Ṛg-Veda at all. While Nadumuri casts doubt on the assumption that Ayodhyā had been the Solar Dynasty’s ancestral home, pointing to several shifts of the capital (though possibly with retention of the city’s name), one even only some two generations before Rāma, he confirms that Rāma himself was born in the Ayodhyā that is now in eastern Uttar Pradesh, hundreds of miles from the Vedic area. It was a common assumption that the Solar and Lunar worlds were quite separate, but here Nadumuri reminds us of serious overlaps. The Rāmāyaṇa’s geographical horizon stretches as far west as Kekaya in western Panjab, west of the Vedic area. Conversely, as described in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, it was already in the mid-Vedic period that some Vedic priests took a leadership role in exploring the east up to Videha, east of the Sadānīrā river (i.e. in northwestern Bihar), taking the fire cult that far but also using the fire materially to clear forests and thus make way for fields and meadows. They made swampy lands cultivable, the way the Christian monks would do some 3000 year later in this reviewer’s own region, the Low Countries. And this was all to the east of Ayodhyā. So, it is not proven but actually quite plausible that Rāma as a king in the powerful Solar dynasty finds mention among the patrons of the Vedic tradition. And secondly, the aforementioned Śantanu, who flourished in the early 19th century BC, was contemporary with Rāma. While the exact place of Rāma’s birth has raised enough controversy, his date of birth has only been the object of some rival hypotheses but with no real conflict ensuing. Nadumuri proposes an estimate of 1920 BC. (p.35) Both come a few generations after the Bhārata king Kuru for whom his Kaurava descendants were so named: Śantanu because he was his descendant, Rāma because he visited the region Kurujaṅgala (“Kuru’s jungle”) named after the patriarch. A date of ca. 1900 BC is as yet unsupported by excavations, but only narrowly: “Archaeology has reported sites as old as 1750 BCE in Ayodhyā. The archaeological gap between 1900 BCE to 1750 BCE is very short. It may get resolved in the future.” Archaeological dating is inherently uncertain, as a new discovery may suddenly change the picture. On the other hand, if Ayodhyā was still a new city at the time of Rāma’s birth (as Nadumuri will argue, cf. infra), and 1750 BC proves to be a correct archaeology-based estimate for the founding of the city, Rāma may have lived in the late 17th century BC. And if Śantanu did likewise, his great-grandsons may have waged the Mahābhārata battle in 1504 or 1478,-- the next astronomy-based dates proposed for it, viz. by Krishna Kumar c.q. RN Iyengar. The jury is still out on the exact year, but on the basis of the king-list information that Mahāpadma Nanda’s coronation (4th century BC) came 1015 to 1500 year after Parīkṣit’s birth (which was less than a year after the battle), we must at any rate look between the 19th and the 14th century BC. The world ages This means Rāma belonged to the final stratum of the Ṛg-Veda, and came three generations earlier than the Kauravas, Pāṇḍavas and Kṛṣṇa. That the Rāma narrative was older than the war of succession in the Bhārata dynasty is generally known; only a handful of Western scholars, a few decades ago already, wanted to reverse the order. But few would have expected them to be that close. For the believers in a precisely-timed scheme of four world ages, it must be especially disappointing. In their “tradition” (actually hardly older than 500 AD), Rāma is the Tretā kā Thākur, the lord of the Tretā Yuga, while Kṛṣṇa’s death marks the end of the Dvāpara Yuga. This means the Dvāpara Yuga stretches over less than three generations, rather than the traditional thousands of years. Then again, Nadumuri later (p.393) also considers indications that, contrary to these indications, Rāma partly belonged to the Dvāpara Yuga; but that would still add only one generation to this hopelessly short Dvāpara Yuga. Well, all this doesn’t matter much once we realize the recentness and artificiality of the usual temporal scheme of the Yugas. While a scheme of four world ages already existed in the pre-Vedic time of Proto-Indo-European unity (hence its reappearance in Greek and Germanic mythology, viz. as Golden-Silver-Bronze-Iron Age c.q. Spear-Sword-Wind-Wolf Age), it was never linked to specific time periods. This link appeared when the precession cycle of 25,772 years, approximated as 24,000 years, had been discovered (Hipparchus, 127 BC), providing a uniquely long cosmic cycle. It took several centuries before this knowledge, transmitted by the Indo-Greeks, had taken root in India. The next step was that the world ages were now seen as fractions of half of this cycle, in a proportion of 1:2:3:4. This arbitrary but reasonably-proportioned division was ascribed to sage Mārkāṇḍeya. In a next move, these figures were multiplied by 360, apparently out of awe for things heavenly (equating a year for men with a day for the gods), yielding the Purāṇic figures of 432,000 years and its multiples. These form an example of an “invented tradition”, a fairly recent tradition that is falsely projected back into the deep past. But if we go back to reality, these figures don’t matter, and the time-span from Rāma to Kṛṣṇa can really have been much shorter. Ayodhyā: now you see it, now you don’t Next, and for most of the book, Nadumuri explores the geographical detail in descriptions of which direction Rāma or Hanumān went in a certain phase of their itineraries, or how many yojanas (of which the length is disputed, but Nadumuri gives an informed guess) they covered. The first question, much highlighted in the Ayodhyā controversy, is: but was this really Rāma’s birthplace? About that, he finds no reason for doubt, but just a few generations earlier as well as later, the situation was more complicated. In the very beginning of his Rāmāyaṇa (Bāla Kāṇḍa, sarga 5-6), Vālmīki describes Daśaratha’s Ayodhyā as well as his ancestor Sagara’s Ayodhyā, and: “Sagara’s Ayodhyā was different from Daśaratha’s Ayodhyā.” (p.55). The Solar dynasty’s capital was moved yet again just after Rāma’s death: “The probable reason for [Rāma’s twin sons] Kuśa and Lava abandoning Ayodhyā is because the Sarayū river flooded Ayodhyā. Probably the same flood ended the life of Rāma and Bharata, and perhaps also of Lakṣmaṇa. This fact is shrouded in Poetic Imagination as follows:-- Rāma, Bhārata and every citizen of Ayodhyā entered Sarayū to end their life!! The poet did capture a bit of the reality. He noted that the river Sarayū flowed in a westward direction (7.100.1). The normal direction of the flow of the river near Ayodhyā is to the east. The river made a westward turn, causing the flood that destroyed Ayodhyā.” (p.410-411) As a consequence, the city temporarily becomes a ghost town without inhabitants nor historical importance: “Ayodhyā was missing when Śantanu’s son Bhīṣma and grandson Pāṇḍu rose to prominence. Kāśī was then a great city of Kosala. Hence, Bhīṣma chose the princesses of Kāśī as brides for his brother Vicitravīrya. They were addressed as Kausalyā (the princesses of Kosala). Ayodhyā did not feature in the military expedition of Pāṇḍu. Probably, it was being rebuilt then. The rebuilt Ayodhyā was featured in the military expedition of Pāṇḍu’s son Bhīma. It was then ruled by a king named Dīrghaprajña. Duryodhana’s son was named Lakṣmaṇa. His mother seems to be from Kosala. This was why the Kosala king Bṛhadbala sided with Duryodhana in the Kurukṣetra War. Bṛhadbala was a descendant of Kuśa. He wasn’t ruling from Ayodhyā. Bṛhadbala was killed by Arjuṇa’s son Abhimanyu in the Kurukṣetra War.” (p.419) At any rate, the house of Rāma and the Bhārata dynasty met in combat on the Kurukṣetra battlefield. Incarnation of Viṣṇu After having argued that Śantanu and Rāma are contemporaneous, on p.134 Nadumuri adds a third important person to the same time bracket: Rāma the son of Jamadagni , a sage of the late Ṛg-Veda, and descendant of Bhṛgu. The Itihāsa-Purāṇa literature has popularized him as Paraśu-Rāma, “Rāma with the Axe”. (According to Shrikant Talageri, this is a corruption of the by then forgotten ethnonym Parśu, an Ānava subtribe that ended up fleeing India and becoming the Persians.) Being as old as Śantanu, he naturally became the teacher of the latter’s first son, Bhīṣma, and played a role in both epics. This creates a problem for devout Vaiṣṇavas though. How could Rāma Jāmadāgnya be contemporaneous with Rāma Dāśaratha, yet both be incarnations of Viṣṇu? Modern reincarnation researchers might point to the fact that outside India, other conceptions of reincarnation exist, e.g. a native chieftain in Canada announced on his deathbed that he would reincarnate in a number of children, and some years later, several children did indeed report memories of having been that one chieftain. But it seems to us that a better way out of this dilemma is to take to the doctrine of divine incarnations, the Avatāravāda, less literally. Being an incarnation of a god is just a manner of speaking. It means that a deceased mortal, when you oversee his life, has played the same role in the world that the deity plays in mythology, e.g. upholding Dharma in society replicates Viṣṇu’s role as Maintainer. It is one specific, deity-oriented form of a more general form of apotheosis, “elevation to godhood” (in Semitic Širk, “associating [a mortal with the divine]”, which became the Islamic term for “idolatry”). As Nadumuri explains: “Usually, the route to deification in Sanātana Dharma is the elevated consciousness of the individual and their antiquity. Many ancestors -- among them many Gurus, warriors, kings, and queens -- are deified and worshipped as divinities”. (p.23) In this case, it should be understood that Rāma’s (or others’) status of incarnation of Viṣṇu was not an original part of his persona: “the core of Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa is closer to RV. The remapping of Rāma as the Avatāra of Viṣṇu was a later development. Viṣṇu became a prominent divinity in the Purāṇic Period.” (p.22) This is yet another “invented tradition”, here a post-Rāma claim on Rāma, one that in this case managed to penetrate by interpolation the peripheral parts of the epic. The geography We have not given away any detail about the main topic of the book, elaborated so painstakingly, taking into account every single passage of the epic, by Jijith Nadumuri Ravi. Let us at least disclose that he nowhere finds Rāma or other protagonists crossing the Narmāda river. To make a very long argumentation short: while the location of Ayodhyā or nearby Citrakūṭa remains uncontroversial, his farther journey takes him into more uncertain territory: Kiṣkindhā was not in Hampi, and Laṅkā was not Śrī Laṅkā. According to Nadumuri, the Rāmāyaṇa contains “not a single reference of Rāma ever crossing the river Narmadā! (…) This upsets the traditionally popular locations of Kiṣkindhā and Laṅkā. Kiṣkindhā is popularly identified with Hampi in Karnataka. (…) Laṅkā is popularly identified with Srilanka. However, despite these deep-rooted notions in the psyche of the believers, archaeology has found no trace of evidence for any urban culture in Srilanka during Rāma-Era. Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa describes Laṅkā city as having a Harappan-style urban culture. (…) we identified Laṅkā with the Bhagatrav island in the mouth of Narmadā where it joins the sea. (…) It matched perfectly with the prosperous city of Laṅkā.” If you want to voice objections to this daring application of the scientific temper to a religious classic, at least go buy and read the book first, so you come to know what exactly it is that you want to object to. And if you just want to know the historical hard data underlying a fascinating epic, this book is the best you’ll find in a long time. It avoids the conventionalism of the textbooks but also the enthusiastic flights of the imagination so badly affecting the self-styled history rewriters. Jijith Nadumuri Ravi: Geography of the Ramayana, Notion Publ., Delhi 2023.
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Vedic chronology vs. the Aryan Immigration Theory

(read at WAVES, 23 Dec. 2022) Every textbook chapter or introductory article about the Vedas starts with a matter-of-fact statement about their chronology: that they started to be composed shortly after the Aryan immigration (violent or otherwise), dated around 1500 BCE. Scholars working on other aspects of Vedic literature, esp. its philosophical contents, derive their datings from it, e.g. “Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (800 BC)” is a plausible dating on condition that post-1500 BC for the start of the Ṛg-Veda and ca. 500 BC for the Buddha are assumed. Edwin Bryant devotes a chapter to the problem of the date of the Ṛg-Veda, which remains non-committal, but he states its importance well. The Vedic Indo-Aryan contains (surprisingly few) loans from Dravidian and Munda, which are always cited as proof that these must have been picked up after an immigration into India. However: “The various attempts made to date Sanskrit texts (the Veda) are examined in the context that if the Ŗgveda (the earliest of the texts) is at least a millennium older than its commonly accepted date, then the possibility of Dravidian and/or Munda and/or unknown linguistic influences on Vedic Sanskrit being the result of the speakers of these languages intruding on an Indo-Aryan-speaking area after the other languages had already left, as opposed to vice versa, becomes a much more serious consideration. Moreover, the relationship between Vedic and Proto-Indo-European would need to be reconsidered, and any proposal associating the overland trajectory of the Indo-Aryans with the Andronovo culture, a southern Iranian route, or any Post-Harappan culture in the subcontinent, loses value. For these and other reasons, a much older date for the Veda is foundational to the Indigenous Aryanist position; if by contrast, the oldest strata of the Ŗgveda cannot be far removed from the conventionally accepted date of 1200 or 1500 B.C.E., then the Indigenous Aryanist case loses cogency.” (Bryant: 2001:238) The recent commotion about an alleged genetic proof of the Aryan Invasion Theory (or as some nowadays squeamishly insist, Aryan Immigration Theory, abbreviated either way as AIT) is also based on this common chronology. David Reich (2018) from Harvard has argued, and Indian Invasionist journalists like Tony Joseph (2017, 2018) have vulgarized his position, that a genetically identifiable influx into India from Central Asia and Eastern Europe took place between -2000 and -1500. Though Indian geneticists like AL Chavda (2017), Premendra Priyadarshi (2017) and Niraj Rai (2022) have argued against this, we think opponents of the AIT shouldn’t mind it because the deduction of the AIT from Reich’s findings totally depends on the vulnerable conventional chronology. If the Ṛg-Veda and therefore the presence of the Sanskrit branch of Indo-European in India predates -2000, Reich’s influx can be something like the later Scythian, Huna or Turkic invasions that left no linguistic traces, but not the fabled “Aryan” invasion that brought Sanskrit into India. Determining the date, conventionally According to the on-line Encyclopedia Britannica, entry “Rigveda” (consulted 15 January 2023), “No definite date can be ascribed to the composition of the Vedas, but the period of about 1500–1200 BCE is acceptable to most scholars.” An implied date for the Brahmanas at ca. -900 is also deduced. So, note that this date is deemed “acceptable”, but an evidential basis for it is lacking. So where does this conventional chronology come from? How do they know that the Vedas were composed from ca. 1500 onwards? The estimate was made by Friedrich Max Müller in the late 19th century, but it was not based on some corresponding C-14-dated archaeological discovery (this technology did not exist yet), nor on a synchronism with an already-dated other text (where are those equally old texts?). Therefore, in his own day, Max Müller was challenged by fellow Orientalists to show the factual basis of this estimate. His own pupil Moriz Winternitz objected that the entire evolution from the early Ṛg-Veda to the Buddha was too variegated and rich to be compressed in a few centuries. The end of it was that Max Müller threw his hands up in the air and conceded that he really didn’t know. In a bout of unnecessary pessimism, he even said that we would never know. But that was in the context of a quarrel between a handful of specialists. For the larger informed public, his estimate had already become Gospel because of his eminence. He was the Oxford-based dean of Orientalism and the editor of the Sacred Books of the East, a series of translations of philosophical and spiritual classics from the Orient. This constituted a cultural revolution, a second Renaissance, because it gave numerous philosophers and artists, as well as their audience, access to the fabled wisdom of the East. This gave his estimate an authority that would prove difficult to challenge. Indian estimates In India, more ambitious chronologies are extant. Attempts to date the Vedas are few, probably because of the common though unhistorical belief that they are timeless and uncreated. But an important implied chronology of the Vedas follows from the dating of the Mahābhārata, which started shortly after the Vedas reached completion. The connection between the two is the person of Kṛṣṇa Dvaipayana, better known as Veda-Vyāsa. The tradition that he edited the Vedas (or at least the Veda-trayī, i.e. minus the Atharva-Veda) and that he was the biological grandfather of the epic’s main protagonists, clearly has a historical core: the last person mentioned in the Ṛg-Veda is his stepfather Śantanu, the last in the Yajur-Veda his son Dhṛtarāṣṭra, both older participants in the epic drama. So, the completion of the Vedas narrowly predates the start of the epic. (The Atharva-Veda still manages to name Arjuṇa’s grandson Parīkṣit, sired during the battle.) The Mahābhārata’s core, the Kurukṣetra battle between two branches of the Bhārata dynasty, is usually taken to have happened 37 years before protagonist Kṛṣṇa’s death, with the latter dated to 3102 BC and equated to the beginning of the Kali Yuga; so in 3139. The first to come up with this chronology, at least implicitly, is the scientist Āryabhaṭa ca. 500 AD, and shortly thereafter it makes its first public appearance in the Aihole inscription. It has no basis in any prior work, not even in the Mahābhārata itself. (It is thus a case of an “invented tradition”, a term coined by the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm ca. 1980 and meaning a tradition of relatively recent vintage that falsely passes as ancient.) We will therefore not be surprised when it transpires to be untenable. A wilder but now popular variation is Nilesh Oak’s thesis (2015) that the battle took place in 5561 BC. For the reasons that follow, we cannot accept such an early dating. Also, many cite Narahari Achar (2012)’s dating of astronomical events, mostly eclipses, mentioned in the Vedas and the Mahābhārata, taken to yield -3067 for the Kurukṣetra battle and therefore even earlier for the Vedas. However, as Talageri (2017:5) shows, these data can at best yield a relative chronology, but refer to too ordinary a phenomenon, too frequently occurring, to be of much use in absolute chronology. Only an extremely precise description of location, time and astronomical characteristics would allow us to determine an absolute date, but the epic and certainly the Vedic hymns don’t provide that. But Talageri is too swift in rejecting this type of evidence altogether. There is one central astrofact in the epic that does provide an imprecise but decisive date, and will do likewise for the Vedas. It does this thanks to its use of the largest hand on the Sun-Earth system’s clock, the precession cycle that has the constellations move vis-à-vis the seasons at the rate of some 71 years per degree of arc, or 25772 years, to come full circle (probably discovered by Hipparchus of Nicea, working in Alexandria, ca. -127). These indications are unambiguous and easy to handle: ancient astronomical knowledge not being very sophisticated yet, even philologists without scientific training could decipher them. If a star is described as lying on the solstitial or equinoctial axis, this means a datable moment in the cycle which won’t come back for thousands of years. Bhīṣma on his deathbed manages to postpone his death until the asterism Māgha (meaning the asterism marked by the Maghā or Regulus), which he specifies falls after the Uttarāyaṇa or Winter Solstice. Now, the star Maghā/Regulus falls practically at the beginning of this asterism and must have passed the solstice, but Bhīṣma waits till the eighth day after the month’s beginning to breathe his last (Bhīśmāṣṭamī). The principal star Regulus itself passed the solstitial axis precessionally in the -23rd century. Seven days corresponds to a precessional 500 years, so this yields the 18th century, or up to a few centuries later depending on whether Regulus had already passed the solstice by a few degrees. We know therefore that the Kurukṣetra battle fell at least later than the -23rd century, and normally not earlier than the -18th century, such as the 1783 date argued for by Bhatnagar (…) and Ravi (2023), or -1504 preferred by … (),. For the present purpose we won’t follow the attempts at a higher precision but remain satisfied that it must be in the earlier -2nd millennium. This implies that the Vedic period ended very early in the -2nd millennium, which happens to coincide with the general social disintegration following the archaeologically attested desiccation of the Sarasvatī river. And the Vedic data will confirm this. Vedic astrodata The really useful astronomical data in the Vedas are only a few, but they are rather precise and entirely consistent, i.e. they never conflict with the internal chronology of the texts. The later Vedas and the Brāhmaṇas, decidedly a younger corpus than the Ṛg-Veda, contain several references to the Pleiades/Krttika on the Equinoctial axis: Atharva-Veda 19:7, Taittirīya Saṁhitā 4:4:10, Maitrāyaṇi Saṁhitā 2:13:20, Kathaka Saṁhitā 39:13, Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa 2:1:2:3. This position is sharp in ca. -2250, but the then status of this asterism as the Zodiac’s number one must have lasted until its full replacement in the equinoctial zone by the next one, though. It may thus be taken to remain valid till roughly -1700, lower than -2250 but still centuries too high for the Max-Müllerian or AIT-based chronology. The Kauśītaki Brāhmaṇa (19:37, discussed in Dash 2009:47-48) has the star Maghā/Regulus on the solstitial axis; this happened last in ca. -2250. This is mentioned in Keith and MacDonnell’s Vedic Index (entry Nakṣatra), a book that every Indologist has gone through as a student. And yet, like those writers, they all overlook this explicit dating in the source text, preferring the book’s shockingly cavalier interpretation: -800 to -600, or no less than 1500 years later. This text is late-Vedic, so if this stellar event falls in -800, it leaves enough time for the Aryans to enter India as per the AIT and first compose the Vedic hymns. Only, that is not what the text says: rather, it points this late-Vedic text to -2300, with the central Vedic Family Books implicitly dated even centuries earlier. Hock (1999:166-167) points out that the ritual described there can still be performed a month later; if the star were to move an equivalent space of some 30°, it would make a difference of more than two thousand years – even later than the AIT would imply. But again, that is not what the text says: while the time of the ritual can fluctuate, the stellar position is very definite. Even the post-Vedic astronomical manual Vedāṅga Jyotiṣa dates itself clearly, and moreover in two different ways: the asterism Dhaniṣṭha occupies the solstice (same position, and hence similar date, in the Maitrāyanīya Brāhmaṇa Upaniṣad 6:14), the asterism Bharaṇī the equinox. This points to the -14th century, when the AIT hardly has the Ṛg-Veda being composed. The same dating is given by another astronomical work, only recently reconstructed and translated: the Parāśara Tantra (Iyengar 2013). These data all point to a higher Vedic chronology, with the Ṛg-Veda minus its later 10th book predating the 23rd century BC, and the 10th book plus the Yajur-Veda and some of the Brāhmaṇas around 2000 BC. This roughly agrees with an earlier astronomy-based estimate by Sen 1974 to between -3500 and -2000. This is compatible with a Vedic Harappa scenario but incompatible with the AIT. The higher chronology is confirmed by a number of archaeological data, e.g. the discovery of the Sinauli spoked-wheeled horse-drawn chariots ca. -2000 matches the mention of these chariots in specifically the Ṛg-Veda’s tenth book, whereas the older books only mention slow ox-drawn carts (Talageri 2019). That it pushes much of the Ṛg-Veda beyond the urbanization of Harappa ca. 2600 BC also matches the estimate by KD Sethna (1982), with cotton being widely attested in the Harappan cities but not in the Ṛg-Veda yet. This also answers the invasionist objection that the Ṛg-Veda can’t be Harappan because it’s more primitive: is mostly predates the Harappan cities. Conclusion In contrast with this sober and consistent astronomical case for a higher chronology, there simply isn’t any astronomical information at all that specifically supports the standard Max-Müllerian AIT-friendly chronology. We don’t expect ancient civilizations to be 100 % right on any scientific subject, but 100 % wrong must also be rare; yet the AIT implies the discovery of one such case. Reconciling the astronomical data with the AIT chronology would require lots of special pleading (which has hardly even been tried because most invasionists don’t realize the problem). It is far more logical and parsimonious to posit a higher chronology, with the Ṛg-Veda in the 3rd and even 4th millennium. Bibliography Achar, BN, 2012: ‘Chronology of Vedic Rshis’, Vedic Venues, No. 1, Delhi. Agarwal, Vishal, 2005. ‘On Perceiving Aryan Migrations in Vedic Ritual Texts’, Puratattva (Bulletin of the Indian Archaeological Society), Delhi, No. 36, 2005–06, pp. 155–165. Bhatnagar, Ashok, 2017. “Date of Mahabharata War Based on Astronomical References? A Reassessment.” Indian Journal of History of Science 52(4) (2017): 369-394. Bronkhorst, Johannes, and Deshpande, Madhav, eds. 1999: Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia. Evidence, Interpretation and Ideology, Harvard, Cambridge MA. Bryant, Edwin, 2003: The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate, New York: Oxford University Press. Chavda, Abhijit, 2017: ‘Propagandizing the Aryan Invasion Debate: A Rebuttal to Tony Joseph’, IndiaFacts, 22 June 2017. Dash, Siniruddha, 2009: Facets of Indian Astronomy, Rashtriya Sanskrit University, Tirupati. Iyengar, RN, 2013, tra.: Parāśara Tantra. Ancient Sanskrit Text on Astronomy and Natural Science (Reconstructed Text with Translation and Notes), Jain University Press. Joseph, Tony, 2017: ‘How genetics is settling the Aryan migration debate’, The Hindu, 16 June 2017. --, 2018: Early Indians: the Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From, Juggernaut Publ. MacDonell, Arthur, and Keith, Arthur, 1912: Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, Murray, London. Oak Nilesh, 2015: When Did the Mahabharata War Happen? The Mystery of Arundhati, Priyadarshi, Premendra, 2017: ‘ANI, ASI, R1A, and Indian Ancestral Heritage’, on blogsite, 25 June 2017. Rai, Niraj, 2022: “India’s Genetic History”, interview to Abhijit Chavda, Youtube, January 2022. Ravi, Jijith Nadumuri, 2022: Rivers of Ṛgveda, a Geographical Exploration, Notion Press --, 2023: Geography of Ramayana, Notion Press. Reich, David, 2018: Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, Random House, New York. Sen, Umapada, 1974: The Rig Vedic Era, Sumitra Sen, Kolkata. Sethna, KD, 1982: Karpasa in Prehistoric India, Biblia Impex, Delhi. Talageri, Shrikant, 9 Dec. 2017: ‘The Use of “Astronomical” Evidence in Dating The Rigveda and The Vedic Period’, --, 2019: Genetics & the Aryan Debate: “Early Indians”, Tony Joseph’s Latest Assault, Aditya Prakashan, Delhi.
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Negationism, the concept

(Foreword to Prof. Em. Aruna Sinha's book *Itihās mė Nakārvād, Kyā, Kyõ aur Kaise?*, Ashir Publ., Delhi 2023) Negationism as a word is based on the French term négationnisme, coined by social scientist Henry Rousso in 1987. It means “denial of historical facts”, specifically of the Holocaust, but also of other genocides. Let us first explain the concept’s career in Europe. In France the term has mostly been directed against the Association des Anciens Amateurs de Récits de Guerres et d’Holocaustes (AAARGH, Association of Ancient Amateurs of Stories of Wars and Holocausts), a group around literary historian Robert Faurisson, including both rightist and leftist deniers of the Jewish Holocaust (1941-44) as well as of several other genocides with high visibility in French public opinion, notably Armenian (1915-18) and Cambodian (1975-78). Faurisson, a specialist of the many forged pseudo-ancient narratives produced during the Romantic period to give a country a glorious past depicted in an epic of its own, like Ossian for Scotland or the Ura Linda Book for Frisia, started his negationist career with the claim that the Diary of Anne Frank was -- you guessed it -- ²a forgery. Anne Frank was a Dutch-Jewish girl who absconded from the Nazis (that’s the period covered by her diary), then was caught and taken to Auschwitz, then in the sight of the Red Army’s advance evacuated westwards to Bergen-Belsen, and there died of typhus. In fact the standard version of what happened to Anne Frank’s family ought to have been welcomed by the Holocaust deniers, for none of them was gassed or otherwise killed: her father survived the war, staying in Auschwitz till the end, while his wife and two daughters died of disease. In fact this doesn't really prove anything extraordinary: it can perfectly be explained by the timing. This happened at the end of the war, when the Nazis were deliberately winding up their extermination project and concentrated on destroying the evidence (but negationists will keep that explanatory circumstance out of view), and when shortages of medicines and disinfectants because of logistics breakdowns made the outbreak of diseases uncontrollable. Faurisson wanted to take it a step further, though: he denied the veracity of the diary. It was the girl’s father who, after his return in 1945 to Amsterdam, had edited the diary before publishing it, and he had left out some passages he deemed inconvenient, especially about the sexual awakening of his pubescent daughter. Even so, this petty fault-finding left the girl’s report about the persecution of the Jews entirely unchallenged. This will remain a common scenario in the negationist movement: focusing on marginal elements that are convenient and obscuring what proves the genocide. This is not uncommon among polemicists defending any cause, but the grimness of the case makes it more serious here. Story of negationism It is also in France that negationism as a movement took off. In 1948 its pioneer Maurice Bardèche still accepted that a systematic extermination of the Jewish people by the German National-Socialist regime had taken place. He only contrasted it with false claims by the erstwhile French Résistance that the French people as such had also been earmarked for extermination. He himself had been a Résistance fighter, but had been arrested by the Germans to spend the rest of the war in Buchenwald concentration camp. There he had not seen those fabled gas chambers that everybody post-war talked about. Extrapolating from his own experience, he questioned the existence of gas chambers anywhere, and evolving from there, he ended up questioning the attempt at extermination of the Jews as such. When in 1961 the historian Raul Hilberg published the first scholarly study of the Holocaust, The Destruction of the European Jews, he countered it with arguments that were to become classics of Holocaust denial. Thus, he explained the disappearance of so many Jews from the population figures as the consequence of a large pre-war Jewish emigration to the Americas. But such a scenario would have left a large paper trail of visa proceedings, a peak in house sales in Germany and Poland, a peak in house purchases in the US or Argentina, etc. As a mere amateur in history, at a time when coming by these foreign documents was a lot harder than today, he may be forgiven for not finding them, but in the decades since, no one else has found them either, though the same argument has been endlessly repeated. “Liars” It is often said that the negationists are liars. While it is not unthinkable that some anti-Semite purposely fabricates arguments for the falsity of the Holocaust narrative in order to accuse the Jews of a false victimhood narrative thought up in order to “blackmail” the Gentiles, on the whole this is very unlikely. Given the enormous social and professional cost you can expect to pay if you out yourself as a negationist, no one will accept this burden for a belief he considers untrue. Only those with a heartfelt belief in the non-existence of an extermination plan are going to express that conviction in public. Far more than lies, it is wishful thinking that explains negationism. In particular, Germans and sympathizers with the German war generation (e.g. because most people take a liking to underdogs and losers), would prefer them not to be guilty of the Holocaust. Because of this bias, they become receptive to any argument that brings this version of the facts closer. Thus, the German-born Canadian Ernst Zündel based his negationist discourse on an unconcealed sympathy for the Nazis, as expressed in his co-authored book (with Eric Thomson) The Hitler We Loved and Why (2004). Some deniers closely study the historical facts (in knowledge of details they often trump the mainstream historians) thinking that this can only strengthen their argument, but then find that the facts turn out to support the case for the Holocaust. Thus, in the 1960s the British self-taught historian David Irving gained himself a reputation as a connoisseur of pertinent German primary sources, then started asserting a negationist view of the genocide in the 1990s (the high tide of Holocaust denial), but twenty years later his study of SS chief Heinrich Himmler’s diary and other confidential sources threw up a privileged testimony of how the SS had organized that very genocide he had earlier denied. Once the most authoritative denier, at the end of his life he ended up providing the most compelling evidence (from the horse’s mouth) in favour of the Holocaust. Similarly his friend David Cole from California, whose critique of the sweeping use of Auschwitz as the proverbial extermination camp had angered many of his fellow Jews, nowadays lambasts the remaining negationists. He affirms the reality of two of the three pillars of the Holocaust, viz. the killings of Jews (on the same footing as partisans) by neck shot behind the frontline during the advances in Soviet territory in 1941-42, and the killing of some 3 million Polish Jews in temporary extermination camps like Treblinka and Majdanek in 1942-43. He only doubts the cinemagenic case of Auschwitz, which was started as a labour camp with Jewish slave labour (but also including Polish labourers who after hours went back to their families every day), and of which he fails to see proof that it shifted to an extermination regime, eventhough the death rate from various causes was high. At any rate, remaining a dissident, he estimates the death toll of the Jewish genocide "only" at 3.5 million deaths rather than the official estimate of 5.3 million (usually rounded off to 6 million). But more decisively, he corroborates that between 1941 and 1944, the Nazi elite corps of the SS conducted an intentional extermination of the Jewish people. Less quality, more quantity The ”creative” period of Holocaust negationism is definitively over, because the leading deniers who tried to give their case a veneer of scholarly evidence have either died (Faurisson, Zündel) or ended up affirming the intentional genocide after all (Cole, Irving, my recently-deceased Danish colleague-Orientalist Christian Lindtner). The deniers' last moment of glory was the negationist conference called in 2005 by Iran’s then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Teheran. The elderly Faurisson reported on it in triumphal terms, but the triumph was only in terms of finally getting some governmental recognition, not of discovering any desired evidence that had always eluded them. This event could be seen as a passing of the baton from the scholars to the masses: not the rare and disappearing neo-Nazis in the West but the masses in the Muslim world, including the growing Muslim community in the West. In European schools, ever more history teachers feel compelled to skip the chapter on the Holocaust, for fear of their combative Muslim pupils. These think the narrative is “Jewish-concocted”, meant to blackmail the Europeans and justify their land grab from the Arabs. Note a difference: contrary to what the received wisdom makes the public believe, that old rightist negationism, though a problematic nuisance, wasn’t all that dangerous: it tried to live up to human-rights sensibilities by minimizing the massacre. It shared the premise that genocide is a bad thing, at least publicly (privately some deniers may have felt that "Hitler didn't kill enough of them"). The Nazis were presented as not all that bad because they had purportedly not committed a genocide, implying that they would have been bad if they "had really" been guilty of genocide. By contrast, among Palestinians and their sympathizers, the opinion is widespread that the Jewish people as such is guilty and therefore deserves the direst punishment, genocide not excluded. But on the other hand, the Palestinians are unlikely to be as effective as the Germans were, so their massacre is unlikely to go beyond stray acts of terrorism. Therefore, in a renewed form, Holocaust negationism is still with us, in a less sophisticated but more massive incarnation. But the Muslim world, already less hostile to Israel than in the past, is increasingly open to modern information, so the argument for the historical reality of the genocide is bound to percolate there as well. The end of Holocaust denial is certain, but it may still take some time to materialize. India What is the importance of all this for India? There was no "Holocaust" in India, with the stated goal of wholesale extermination. (Better to call it "Hindu-hatya" or some such newly-coined native term, more distinctive than a plagiarized term from elsewhere.) The Islamic scriptures didn't envisage the physical annihilation of the unbelievers, only their acceptance of Islam or at least of a serf status under Islam's supremacy. Violence came in when the Pagans resisted this "invitation" to join Islam. Only rarely did it take the character of a genocide, latterly in East Bengal 1971, where more than two million Hindus were slaughtered. But what the Islamic massacres of Hindus lacked in intensity, they made up for in quantity. The Holocaust lasted for less than four years and was confined to occupied Poland and the conquered part of the Soviet Union. By contrast, the massacres of Hindus started in 712 AD, covered a whole Subcontinent, and it is unlikely that we have seen the last of them. Hindu polemicists bandy about the number 80 million for the Hindus killed between the years 1000 and 1525: Mahmoud Ghaznavi's invasions and the end of the Sultanate. This comes from historian Prof. KS Lal, who published this estimate in 1979. Though Lal was scrupulous in calculating it, such grim research findings obviously need further verification, which hasn't been tried ever since. After all, investigating the crimes of Islam has become taboo. But today the intellectual atmosphere seems to have cleared up sufficiently to make this type of research possible again. Though the Nazi massacres in Central Europe and the Islamic massacres in the Subcontinent are different in nature, the attempts to deny them are very similar. They use the same techniques, such as highlighting marginal non-representative facts and obscuring representative facts; or when not feasible to deny events, then putting a spin on the motive behind them. That is why, unlike "Holocaust", "negationism" remains a term that can perfectly be transferred to India But the deniers in India also have a trump card that Holocaust deniers can only dream of: the establishment supports them. Even Hindu Nationalist governments have not been effective, and generally not even seriously motivated, to change the narrative. That is why in India, negationism remains a problem to deal with.
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