Ziya Us Salam

Write Angle: To each his own

Rearming Hinduism   | Photo Credit: 28dmc writeangle

History and its endless debates. Many summers ago when I was a student of history, our teachers used to encourage us to read Romila Thapar. Her books “A History of India” and “Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas” were insightful as well as light on the mind, carrying not a trace of academic jargon which makes much of our history writings unreadable. Of course, we read with interest D.N. Jha too, in particular his take on the issue of cows in the Vedic Age. Only some of us who looked for quick fix solutions went anywhere near L. Mukherjee’s “Ancient India”. Later, it turned out, Mukherjee was the author all civil services aspirants read for their instant dose of ancient Indian history.

To each his own.

I loved my Romila Thapar books. Putting bookmarks, underlining passages, making asterisk mark in the contents section, I did it all. The other day, I revisited the book. Its pages unavoidably yellow, it still does not quite smell of old books simply because it is never too far from the sight or hands. This time, I felt the need to re-read her after reading Vamsee Juluri’s latest, “Rearming Hinduism”.

With a book that demands — and deserves — attention and encourages debate, Juluri seeks to demolish the theory that Hindus, like the Muslims and Christians later under different guises, invaded India. Scoffing at Wendy Doniger’s story of how 50 million years ago a piece of land broke off from Africa and voyaged across primal oceans to smash, violently, into what is now Asia, and became India, Juluri argues with a lot of passion why the Aryan invasion theory does not hold. Questioning the historians who hold that Hinduism came to India with the Vedic civilization, he writes, “The arguments today about Hinduism’s origins largely revolve around geography. The dominant, academically sanctioned history maintains that Hinduism began with the composition of the Vedas by a gang of violent horsemen who swept down from Central Asia into the Punjab.” He then goes on to favour the view of the other school which believes that Hinduism was already in place in the subcontinent by the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. Juluri argues that the Aryan invasion story is part of a Eurocentric view of history wherein European historians believed that Hindus were “once of their own kind, now grown dark and dull in the sun.” He then questions the “Hindus as conquerors” theory, arguing that the myth of the Vedic violence was just that.

Considering Juluri treads too close to the view held by Right wingers, I decided to go back to Thapar’s work for a more rounded perspective. And this is what she writes in “A History of India”: “By 1700 B.C., the Harappa culture had declined and the migration of the Indo-Aryans from Iran in about 1500 B.C. introduced new features into the cultural background of north-western India.” Without using words like ‘attack’ or ‘invasion’, she hints at the foreign origin of the Aryans. Initially, she focuses on the similarities in the Indo-European languages, pointing out the surprise of some Europeans on finding out that Sanskrit was related in structure and possibly in sound to Greek and Latin. Later, she writes, “The Aryans came as semi-nomadic pastoralists living chiefly on the produce of cattle, and for some time cattle-rearing remained their main occupation.” She also points out that the Aryans regarded the elephant with curiosity, calling it a beast with a hand — the elephant was not known to people in Central Asia then but was very much a part of our geography. Mukherjee, on the other hand, simply calls the coming of the Aryans as “the Indo-Aryan conquest of Northern India”, implying that the Aryans originated elsewhere. “After crossing the mountain passes, the Aryans first settled in the valley of the Kabul river and the Punjab,” Mukherjee writes of the initial Aryan settlements.

On similar lines to Thapar’s Sanskrit syntax ran Max Mueller’s view that the ancestors of the Indians, Greeks, Persians, Romans and Germans must have lived together at some stage. This was revealed by a study of the languages of these peoples. For instance, roots words like pitri and matri in Sanskrit for father and mother respectively were the same as pidar and madar in Persian, father and mother in English and patar and matar in Latin.

Mueller mainly held that the main stream of the Aryans flowed towards the North West. Accordingly, it is believed that “the original home of the Aryans must have been nearest to the lands occupied by the Indians and the Iranians, and that probably was Central Asia.” Much later, Bal Gangadhar Tilak held the opinion that the original home of the Aryans was the Arctic region, a view he expressed in the book “The Arctic Home of Aryans”. He argued that the Vedas referred to days and nights lasting up to six months, a reality of the Arctic region. Interestingly, Hindu reformer Dayanand Saraswati was of the belief that the original home of the Aryans was Tibet, a view he expounded in “Satyarth Prakash”.

But then there are others who propound the theory that the Aryans’ original home was India and they must have migrated from here; a club whose membership now Juluri can claim. They argue that the Vedas were composed in India and the social structure of the civilization can be traced to Vedic institutions.

It was a view vehemently contested by those who reason that the Aryans came from Central Asia. They point out that the early Aryans were familiar with oak, pine and birch trees which did not grow in the plains of India. And they were not acquainted with the elephant, lion and tiger.

So, thanks to Juluri and all the predecessors, the debate rages on. As for me, I stay in Thapar’s quarter. If the Aryans came from Central Asia and composed the Vedic hymns, the Muslims came via Sindh, and the Christians via Bengal, then whose home is our land? Well, everybody who regards it a home.

The author is a seasoned literary critic

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2021 4:53:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Ziya_Us_Salam/write-angle-to-each-his-own/article6941132.ece

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