The Indian Style of Recording History

Throughout my life I have heard people wondering whether the Ramayana and Mahabharata are just stories or whether they are real events which have been recorded in a story form. Throughout ages, the history of the world has been recorded in various forms like sculptures, books, paintings, etc. In most parts of the world, one has been able to fathom the past history of the region chronologically. If one were to see Greek or Roman history, one would be able to put a date to most events excepting those which related to mythology or Gods.

Our history as is taught in the schools wrongly inculcates in us the thought that our ancient tales of valor and truth are myths. It also encourages us to learn from history of the rest of the world where wrong values of loot and land grabbing are considered powerful and thus correct.

But in India, our history was never recorded chronologically. So much so that one does not even know whether the Chandragupta Maurya of our history books was the same as the legendary King Vikramaditya! We do not know for sure whether the great poet Kalidasa was a poet in the court of Vikramaditya or Chandragupta or Raja Bhoj (This is so because his lifetime is described as being a courtier of Vikramaditya but stories of his death say that Raja Bhoja was inconsolable on his death). If one looks at the various temples and water tanks all over India, one would be sure that Rama existed and was a great king. Similarly there are various places which are associated with Sri Krishna and the Pandava’s life. But still the Ramayana and Mahabharata are considered to be just myths. We are not even able to say with surety the date of the birth of Adi Shankaracharya, though He was born after the birth of Christ. Why this confusion regarding our history?

The answer lies in the way we recorded our achievements throughout the ages. If one were to look at the shlokas in the Vedas, one can see that they were the work of many Rishis and Sages. But the Vedas themselves are considered to be words of God. Then again, they are not the words of only one God form. Why? This is because we consider Mantras as not just words. They are words which are formed from our collective consciousness which exist beyond the physical plane; every Mantra brings out a subtle form, each different from one another and this is visible only to those who have experienced going beyond the physical and mind consciousness.

For those who are skeptical about what I have written, I request you to go through the science of Cymatics – a sample link for the same on YouTube

What I am trying to say is that these Rishis did not give much credit for their findings because they thought that it was the grace of the God of the Mantra which they saw during their meditation trances. Thus they neither took any credit for it nor recording their findings date-wise. They also thought that this was the property of all beings through the ages and thus did not waste time copyrighting it and they shared their knowledge freely with all those who were sincere seekers of knowledge.

It has been famously said: “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” How true! That was the reason probably why our history was recorded not as the reign of a particular king from this date to that, but as what one could learn from the reign of that particular king. Thus we learn about King Bharata as the ruler who spread his empire and ruled from the mighty ocean to the mighty Himalayas. The reign of Sri Rama was recorded as the age of Maryada (living within rightful limits). Ravana’s rule was recorded as one of lust and loot reigning in the land of a very educated man. The Mahabharata recorded the rule of Dhritharashtra as what the situation would be if one was blinded with love for one’s progeny.

Every story in the Mahabharata talks about the achievements or mistakes of a ruler. Yayati’s story tells us about insatiable desires and how one’s children are not exactly eager to shoulder the burdens of a parent’s sin. Nala’s story talks about love and fidelity on one side and about losing a kingdom to treachery and gambling on the other. The theme of disrespect to women and the ill consequences that follow are the theme of so many stories in Mahabharata – Keechaka, Jayadratha, Duryodhana & Dushasana, Yayati and so on. At the same time other stories also speak of the mental strength of women and respect given to them in those days – Kunti, Sage Parashar & Satyavati, Shantanu & Ganga, Shantanu & Satyavati, Rukmani, Draupadi, etc. The basic idea behind the way these reigns have been recorded is that people should learn from these events the way to rightful living. Mistakes of the past have the habit of recurring and therefore the future generations should be aware of the consequences of such mistakes.

When we talk about the tales in the Ramayana too, one notices a recurrent theme – the high moral stand taken by all the kings in the Ikshavaku clan or the Suryavanshis. Every ruler of this ‘Vansh’ (clan) has shown fortitude, adherence to truth and sacrifice of family for the sake of his ‘Praja’ (subjects) and to uphold Dharma.

If one compares this to the recording of history in the other Nations of the World, one will see a marked dissimilarity – more importance and respect was given to conquering more land, more wealth and more slaves in other parts of the world. In India, more importance was given to the welfare and happiness of the people, sacrifice and donating of wealth, freedom of expression and life of the common man was of paramount importance. Our ancient historians felt that it was more important to record the achievements in various fields such as science, health, astrology, astronomy, fine arts, music, dance, playwrights, etc. than achievements of gathering of wealth, building monuments with their names on it or copywriting knowledge. Contrast this to today’s Forbes list of the top 100 wealthy persons or the top 100 companies in the world. What one understands immediately is the impermanence of this achievement to the achievements recorded in our ancient historical stories.

Even the reign of not so ancient kings like Harshavardan, Vikramaditya, Raja Bhoja, the Chola and Pandian kings, the kings of the Gupta Empire are not free from miscalculations in the dates and their historic achievements. The birth dates of some of our famous Sages and Gurus born after Christ too are debatable. This is so because here again, their teachings and works were considered more important than their lineage or dates as per the Gregorian calendar. But this should not be held as an excuse to call our ancient history as Mythology as is wrongly supposed in the case of the Ramayana, Mahabharata or even Vikramaditya’s reign.

Our history as is taught in the schools wrongly inculcates in us the thought that our ancient tales of valor and truth are myths. It also encourages us to learn from history of the rest of the world where wrong values of loot and land grabbing are considered powerful and thus correct. Is it any wonder then that we have slowly forgotten our values and have embraced values of other cultures? When we do not show pride in our own culture and history, how can we expect the future generations to have pride in it? While we have forgotten our values, we are learning every day the mistakes that modern history has to offer us and that too in a form that can be said to show how might is right! Is it too late to recognize our ancient history, even if it is without dates and learn from it the correct way? We owe it to our future generations.


More by :  Rati Hegde

Top | Education

Views: 3516      Comments: 7

Comment They are words which are formed from our collective consciousness which exist beyond the physical plane; every Mantra brings out a subtle form, each different from one another and this is visible only to those who have experienced going beyond the physical and mind very true....great blog !!

vibha gupta
03-Aug-2016 03:13 AM

Comment I dont understand, why our children do not have a clear picture about Arya Vikramaditya, raja Sanjit, Lalitaditya Muktapid, Ashoka etc, Al Indian historians should unitedly come to a conclusion about the kings, their empire, dates etc, for example, Chandragupta 2nd of Gupta dynsty took a title of Vikramaditya, why cant our historians distinguish between him and Arya Vikramaditya? The piller of meheruli describes the conquest of bactria by Chandragupta, but we dont get a clear picture from our historian about his invasion to bactria and which greek king he defeated, same case we find with Ashoka, we know that Ashoka destroyed kalinga, we only know that Ashoka had this single war, but we also read that Asoka's empire was extended till pamir knot, that means he conqured the land of middle east and central asiia, from a small saurce in net I came to know that when he was a prince, being the viceroy of Afganishthan every year he come out with his victorious bloodthirsty army at Antolia, kurdisthan, Arabia, persia and at many part of middle east and used to plunder those country, he was not less then samrat Chengiz Khan in valour. But we are not aware about all these. Lalitaditya muktapida, conqured many part of Islamic middle east at the time of Abbssid Caliphate, Entire Islamic Mawara Al Nahar put their heads down infront of this great hindu king. Raja sanjit defeated the Arabs and jewies and conqured Arabia. I dont know why our historians are unable to collect these actual true informations and why these infomations are not included at our history syllabus. We should be proud to allthese as Indians. Rahul

Rahul Banerjee
25-Oct-2013 03:33 AM

Comment Absolutely Nita ... the Mahabharata shows us how human behaviour is so predisposed to abuse of power & that this always brings about a downfall. Wish our educators would try to inculcate in our syllabus the lessons from Indian history in some way. Thanks for appreciating the article :)

Rati Hegde
22-Aug-2013 11:09 AM

Comment Hi Rati, wonderful article. "Mistakes of the past have the habit of recurring and therefore the future generations should be aware of the consequences of such mistakes. " ........... I agree with it totally. Often we try to justify the wrong things that happened in Mahabharta by saying that they cannot be wrong and so they have to be right. Where as I feel Mahabharat written just before the decline of values in human society tried to convey what will happen , if do the wrong things ...there are ample examples of wrong decisions and behaviour in Mahabharat and we are suppose to learn from them so that we do not repeat the same mistake.

You are very right in pointing out that our history has been written from the point of view of spreading the message of right living and right conduct therefore dates were overlooked. Unfortunately this gives a tool in the hands of people who love to belittle our own country stemming from their self created insecurities.

Loved reading the article where every thing has been conveyed with logic and conviction.

Nita Agarwal
22-Aug-2013 00:36 AM

Comment @Harsha ... i agree with what you have written esp. about the Upanishads. I believe there is no harm in teaching the Upanishads because it has nothing to do with religion. But since we are a 'secular' nation with no sense of cultural pride, maybe there is no way this would be implemented. What you have written about different calendars too is true, but still maybe that would mean that the dates would differ only by a few days. But even today we are weak in terms of documenting events - look at the way we register FIRs or lose files with impunity :D

@Monsoon God ... Europeans wanting to claim the Aryan theory as originating in the West is understandable (esp. when India was ruled by the Britishers) but Indians still sticking to that theory with enthusiasm is not understandable at all. Especially if you look at any Indian who gives a speech abroad to the Whites ... he/she will definitely want to agree with this phenomenon to impress them or to convince them that we have the same ancestors. Now what do you call that?

Rati Hegde
21-Aug-2013 23:10 PM

Comment To construct a reliable chronology of Hinduism is challenging, for the following reasons:

Hinduism claims no identifiable human founder, nor a specific origin in history.
It is so old that its past recedes into pre-history. Furthermore, the tradition itself claims to be eternal.
Hinduism is extremely diverse, and only recently conceived of as a single, distinct religion. Hindus did not feel compelled to unify their many traditions, or define the common ground that distinguished them from "other faiths" — not, at least, until these "others" threatened to impose their own doctrines.
Hindu people were little concerned with recording "mere facts"; they were interested in the meaning behind events, not a resume of the past. First-hand records are therefore relatively rare.
Within the accounts that are available, there is no clear divide between history and myth; written narratives span many eras of time and planes of existence. They are not limited to descriptions or eulogies of a single country, race or religion.
Nonetheless, researchers have drawn up a timeline for Hinduism, as they do for other religions. Most textbooks identify the roots of Hinduism with the Aryan migration into India, around 1500 BCE, and the subsequent composition of the Rig Veda. European scholars proposed this theory in the late 19th century. It was controversial from the start and some academics, especially from India, now consider it an example of colonial-missionary interpretation — a predominant culture projecting it own ideas, values, and biases onto the politically dependent.

Europeans considered India backward, thinking that anything valuable found there must have been imported from the "civilised" West. Significantly, within ancient Indian texts there is no mention of any Aryan migration. The term Aryan (see glossary) was used, but not to refer to a specific race of people. As scholars continue to debate the theory, a new chronology is emerging, often reversing the paradigm by proposing India as the cradle of civilisation, and pushing dates further back. This is more consistent with Hindu versions of history, with their much earlier dates, and numerous textual references to Vedic societies migrating westward.

Monsoon God
21-Aug-2013 05:36 AM

Comment H Rati,
What you have written is very true. Especially the last paragraph. Infact our mythology has been totally taken out of school syllabus. I dont think school kids these days read stories from our ancient mythologies in their textbooks. Once upon a time learning and realizing Upanishad was the most esteemed education. Now a days most dont know what upanishads are.
One more reason why dates can not be fixed of our ancient indian history is because the people of those times mentioned time/dates in terms of the relative of position of sun/moon/stars. For example when Krishna informs Karna that Mahabharata war should start in two weeks from then he says some thing like " the day when moon enters such and such a constellation, in such and such a maasa (month) X days after that...that day war shall start" etc.. something like that. There was no agreed common standard on the fixed point of time from where all other dates are calculated.
Added to this complication is our system of calendars. Every community seems to follow a different calendar. For example, the Tamil new year and Kannada new year does not start on the same day. And North Indian new year day is different. And then you have Lunar and Solar calendars where dates of many festivals differ.
The western culture/civilization did a very good thing by fixing this point of reference in time at the birth/death of Christ and hence we have BC and AD.
However the westeren culture and thoughts are so prevalent these days that Indian/Hindu culture and values might soon be a thing of the past or alteast relegated to just temples and worship rooms ! I think here again our ancient priests/sages need to be blamed for brainwashing the masses with superstitions so much so that hinduism simply became a mass ridicule and disgust. A common man wanted an escape. Post Independence Indians are easily embracing western culture to escape from this superstitions and ridicule along with an eye on other benefits :)

20-Aug-2013 09:39 AM

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