Q & A: The Verity of the Indian Itihasa This is a very interesting and eye-opening discussion on how the deep traditional sciences (shastra) and history (itihasa) of the Indian civilization have been groundlessly invalidated and termed “mythical”, thereby leaving us no room to even explore and verify their validity.
(Extracted from talks at Vikasa, Rishikesh, December 2016)
This is a very interesting and eye-opening discussion on how the deep traditional sciences (shastra) and history (itihasa) of the Indian civilization have been groundlessly invalidated and termed “mythical”, thereby leaving us no room to even explore and verify their validity. These sciences are vast and use different kinds of metrics to validate their hypotheses and therefore might not fit into the scope of empirical science that we currently adopt. Modern history’s record of human beings goes back to just 10,000 years, while the Indian itihasas and puranas talk about very ancient times, from the beginning of creation of the universe. Huge time scales, of the order of 8.64 billion years and beyond, are described in the Mahabharata. Itihasas like the Mahabharata are historically accurate because they are recorded by an authority, not just anybody, and their testimonials are passed down. The facts and accounts are true because they are “peer-reviewed”, to use modern language!
We human beings have a long history; it is just that most of it is not in our conscious awareness. What we study from current history is not sufficient to know our past. We need to look much deeper into our past through the study and research of the Indian shastra and itihasa.
So we were looking at Eurocentrism and its effect on us even now, not just us, in India, but actually worldwide, right from our sense of dressing, sense of education, the mode of education, even the mode of doing science, is typically Eurocentric. For example, medical science. When I say medical science, immediately what jumps to your mind? The current form of allopathy, the western medical science. You don’t think of Ayurveda or Yoga or all the superb sciences that we have (the traditional knowledge of the Indian civilization). In fact, many people think these are fake sciences. Thousands of years of validity and you call that a fake science! How valid is that? And hence, it becomes important to understand this framework or worldview that you are looking through, to arrive at a judgement. Arrive at a value judgement, right? So that is what we call as Eurocentrism – the framework that you use to arrive at a value judgement, is Eurocentric. It is not multidimensional. It is not diverse, including all. Only now, in the United Nations we are talking of all-inclusive frameworks, indigenous frameworks and so on. Still you just look at popular view, look at our own mindsets, you will respect a person who is able to talk in English. You will look down upon a person who is not able to communicate in English. So how do we arrive at these processes of conditioning? That becomes very very critical to understand because once you understand the processes, you have a handle. Why are you the way you are? “Ah! I am like this. That is all.” So that does not give an explanation. Say, for example, our sciences – how deep they have been. We have been discussing so many things, do you think they are unscientific? They are very much scientific! Just that it might not fit into the scope of empirical science that we adopt now. It might not fit into the scope because these are vast sciences. They use different kinds of metrics to arrive at those hypotheses and validate those hypotheses. But because of historical reasons and the politics of history, these have suddenly been invalidated. Not suddenly, over a period of time, they have been systematically dismantled. Which lead to the famous statement of Swami Vivekananda in 1905, I believe. He said, “50 years of English-run institutions of education, has not produced one clear-headed Indian intellectual.” Strong individual. Because systematically, a child is taken to school, and taught that his father is a fool, that his grandfather is a lunatic, that the whole bunch of scriptures are books of lies, all that is drilled down, until that person has no spine.
Just as Shyam explained, African slaves, how could you win over a very powerful warrior nation, like Africans?..by actually cutting them completely off their roots. Right from the naming, everything is cut off, systematically, and then you don’t have an identity, which is what gives you your strength. So that has been done not to that extent (in India), but definitely has been done. To be able to become aware of this itself, you need to actually look at history which gives you the lenses to become aware of this.”Oh! I am acting this way and this is the background with which, because of which I am acting this way.” That is when you will have the distance to be able to look at yourselves objectively. Else, it will not be open to reason. And that is what has happened, where we have assumed that this is the only paradigm, there is no alternative that can be available. And any alternative that is available is fake, is dangerous, jingoism, and all those connotations associated with it. So even looking at the Mahabharata, the reason why we are looking at it is exactly to bring out these alternative aspects from our own perspectives, that is an essential process of antahkarana shuddhi. Chitta shuddhi, where only that you are able to actually see it for what it is, so to be able to get that view, that perspective, is the reason why we also look at history. Now the greatest tragedy is that, in the past 250 years all the histories that have been cherished in this land as itihasas…
Before going into that, you know, how does history get built? If you look at the process, it is very interesting. What is it called? “His – story” Whose story? Athukaaga sontha katha, soga katha illa pa (Laughter) Naan eppadi irunthen, ippo ippidi irukken! (Laughter) (“His – story” does not mean my story, my sad story – “How I was before! Now how have I become!) Not exactly along those lines, okay? So “his – story” also reveals the process by which that is built. It is testimonial based. So it is passed on, you hear testimonies from whom you have shraddha in, and that you take it for the word. And that is a recorded instance. And that is passed down. And hence this is how, the testimonials being passed, become history. Now all of these testimonials that comprise our itihasas, our puranas, and all of those testimonials, have just been pushed aside and called ”Mythology!” Just been pushed side, or called prehistory, “You cannot verify it, sorry, it does not work.” Who is who to verify these things? These are testimonials. How does history work now? See, it works exactly this way, right? Testimonials are collected, verified, cross-verified, cross-checked and a comprehensive history is built. Historical account is built. That is what we call as history.
Then the only way we can get history is by belief? On the basis of belief?
It is testimonial. Even now for example, how do courts of law work? Someone comes and say “I bear testimony to this episode.”
Sir, but the mainstream history which we all learn in school is highly manipulated.
So that is where we have the politics of history. So it depends on who writes the history books. With what intentions they write it.
For example, while studying in 8th, 9th and 10th, in civics, I still remember, we used to study more about Indian National Congress and about freedom-fighting rather than the ancient history of India. And then history talks about the Aryan invasion that never happened.
Good we did not listen to those classes! (Laughter)
There was also you know, in a recent research, we found the argument reasonably valid. It was shown how these various characters from history, they are from history, were used by the then formative government, to actually establish certain socialist ideals, and hence for example, Ashoka was glorified. Tsk! There was Chandragupta Maurya, led by Chanakya. He was not glorified. Chandragupta Maurya was not glorified, but Ashoka specifically was glorified. In a very specific light. It was to do with the politics of that time and hence it was not with the equal vision that history was treated, something was projected for a very specific underlying cause, interest.
I was just reflecting on the way I learnt history in my school days. My blood never boiled that actually the Britishers had come and killed so many of our people. It was almost taught like a fact, you know, “Okay 1857 revolt” It would just be a question- “___ revolt happened in the year___” (Fill in the Blanks question). And we just mechanically fill that. And there were terrorists, Bhagat Singh. And hence the clarity or the connect of the history teacher becomes so very important. It has become most like a subjective aspect where, the entire onus on presenting history lies in the hands of the history teacher. How much passion he or she is able to bring. So in fact, recently, we have also started thinking along the lines of having a storytelling workshop for history teachers, so that they bring out the emotional connect to the land when they present about our country. See, just 1000 years of recorded history, there is so much to tell. But it needs to be told in a way, because the bhava is so very important, and that is missing from the history textbooks. Because it is, it has been taken in a very different way. You need to build a context to present the facts. Here also we are presenting facts, that is what is itihasa, but you build the context.
In our history textbooks, isn’t Mahabharata subjected to any agenda, political agenda?
Oh, it has always been at the centre of all political agendas! (Laughter) In fact, the very fact that people don’t access it is because of political reasons. (Laughter)
How do we know that the historical accounts in the Mahabharata are not distorted?
Okay, that is a very valid point. So we come to the essential question, “How do you prove the historicity, or how does science of history work?’ Or science itself, how does it work? Science the way it works is like this. What are the prime tenets of science? Verifiability, reproducibility and empiricism – these are the primary tenets of science. Given those ground conditions you should be able to reproduce them and get the same result. Now that is okay for such sciences, but how about history? So we have what is called testimonials, by an authority, not just anybody. You can have testimonials from anybody but that will not hold the same value, but by an authority and they would not give out any lie. Why? Because their credibility is at question, because they have peers. Peer pressure works. They have peers. Even now, we produce results…for example, we are computer scientists, we publish in peer-reviewed journals. It is peer-reviewed. That is, the body of scientists which hold that sacrosanct position which provide credibility for the science that comes into our textbooks. So from those journals, the textbook authors actually collate it, organize it sequentially and that is how textbooks are provided to you on your desks. This is the process of science and scientific dissemination. Now, that credibility is at stake. Nobody in their right minds would ever do it. For example Einstein would not give out a lie or a wrong statement simply because it is recorded for posterity, and anybody can verify it at any point in time and say,”We are a bunch of fools believing that guy. That guy has lied.” And that’s it, the whole structure would fall. They would not do that. So it is kept up by the peers, contemporary peers and also later peers, in society. That’s exactly how it is kept up with us. A sadhu sannyasi will not behave in an odd way because there are peers who will comment on it, criticize it, and they would lose their stature, if they do an odd act. And hence they would not lie. Vyasa Maharishi had his peers.
In the Indian context, it is also their own swadharma.
It is not just the body of peers, it is also your high level of self-esteem or self-value that you have worked towards building. And there is no better thing than that. And that, the full authority of that rests with Brahmaji, you know (Brahma is the creator of our current reality). That is how we trace it back. The full authority of it rests with Brahmaji. It is like an open book. If Vyasa Maharishi commits something, he would not just lose credibility in the mortal world, he might in fact escape in the mortal world. But sorry, the line of reasoning is much deeper. All the way up to Brahmaji he would have to answer, because as we chant (in the Vyasa Stuti), Vyasa happens to be the son of Parashara, who happens to be the son of Shakti, who happens to be the son of Vasishtha, who happens to be the son of? Brahma himself. In fact, that it is reason why people would, in Brahmin communities they would do Abhivadaye, explaining their important…the rishis that govern their lineage, the entire lineage, what sutras govern them, grihya sutras, what texts govern their regular lives, all that is mentioned and that background is established. Only if you are empty of that background, you are a nobody or anonymous, you would do funny stuff. Otherwise you would not risk it. That is called honour. You would not risk your family’s honour. That does not mean you don’t explore. That is different. Sincere exploration is always welcome, but not wrong stuff, you would not lie, because your entire background, background credibility, is at stake. So earlier when people used to appoint, that is why you would find, an important qualification for any appointment to a critical post, was they should be kulina, meaning coming from an excellent family background. It is not just sufficient that they are excellent, but they need to come from excellent family background, because the family will provide that sort of an intelligence that enhances the individual. Even scientists acknowledge this.
A person’s whole family reputation is at stake. And it is his responsibility to be true to it.
And why? Reputation not just for reputation’s sake, because everything is based on that word. So we generally reason out, all the way up to Brahmaji, for example, even tracing back one’s lineage, it generally is traced back all the way to Brahmaji. Brahmaji not necessarily in a human form, okay? That is an anthropocentric view of creation. Need not be so. Brahmaji can assume any form. It can be any which way. It can be an “it”, “he”, “she” who is to define that? So the question of credibility, testimonial becomes very very critical. That is how you will see that all our shastras, all our texts, secular, religious, anything, all of that would have a divine origin. Divine origin. For example, Danda Niti, political science, Niti Shastras, actually it is clearly mentioned that Brahmaji originated it for the welfare of all beings so that there is no conflict of interest. That is how it originated. So there is a clear line of authority, a line of reasoning. Just as we have now. Just that we have situated ourselves in a very narrow time period of history. Just maybe about 2000 years. And we say only that is valid. Everything else is invalid. That is what has been taught now. But that does not invalidate the whole thing that we possess. It does not invalidate our shastras. Just that we have been really, that has been really pushed into us.
(Smrithi ji) I think we also have these archeo-astronomical sciences.
Yeah tomorrow we will look at a little bit of astronomical evidence. See for example, in Tamil Nadu, there is a clear line of reasoning of Kumari Kandam1. Taen Madurai, not the current Madurai. Taen Thamirabarani, not the current Thamirabarani. I come from the land of Thamirabarani, you know, but Taen Thamirabarani is mentioned. Taen Podigai Malai is mentioned, not the current Podigai Malai. And it is there in the collective memory. How can we just like that dismiss it as mythical? Lemuria, Atlantis have been termed mythical, that is all not history. Such collective memory reasoning cannot be dismissed just like that. Kumari Kandam is very much part of Tamil collective memory. Passed down from father to son and daughter. Kumari Kandam is Lemuria. Just like Atlantis, earlier than that Lemuria? Like you have Sri Lanka, everything…It was supposed to be a huge piece of land. It was supposed to extend from Madagascar. But those cultural memories have still been retained. But our current science, that is where as Indians, we face a clear conflict, where we are taught one thing but the cultural memories actually indicate something more. It is more expansive that just what we are taught. And we are taught that only this (current science) should be believed and that our traditional knowledge is not scientific, it is superstition.
(Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1889920)
1 Silappadikaram, one of the five celebrated Tamil epics, written in the first century A.D. by Ilango Adigal, makes frequent references to a vast tract of country called “Kumari Nadu”, now identified as Lemuria or Gondwanaland by European scholars, extending far beyond the present Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of modern India, lying submerged in the Indian Ocean. It is said that ancient Madurai, or Taen Madurai, was the seat of the Tamil Sangam (literary academy) and Kavatapuram was the capital of the Pandyan kingdom. Peninsular India extended from Kanya Kumari, forming a sprawling continent touching Africa in the west, Australia in the south and occupying a large portion of the Indian Ocean. From 30,000 B.C. to 2700 B.C. natural cataclysmic landslips occurred as a result of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions which periodically affected the surface of the earth and the ocean beds. As the continent of Lemuria was sinking in the western portion, people migrated to Asia, Australia and the lands of the Pacific.
– Sri M. Govindan, “Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition”