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Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LVI
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
Continued from Part LV
Consequently, while Islam and Christianity have replaced erstwhile cultures and religions in the aforesaid and other parts of the world, Hinduism still continues to grow and prosper in South Asia, predominantly in India and Nepal as also with a handful population of Hindus in various other parts of the world. Traditionally, the practitioners in the Indian subcontinent called it the “Sanatana Dharma” (the Eternal Righteous Path) since ancient time but later apparently under the influence of Western invaders, particularly of the Arab and Turk origin, the land was increasingly known as Hindustan, the religion as Hinduism and followers as Hindus, though some also claim these terms of indigenous origin. Many Hindus still remember their identity as Sanatana Dharma which continues to be world’s third largest religion after Christianity and Islam with nearly 1.25 billion practitioners representing about sixteen percent of the global population. The major identity and strength of the Hinduism has been its spirituality and philosophical knowledge that comes from the ancient scriptures i.e. the Vedas, Upanishads and other Brahmanas, and historical texts like Puranas and Epics inter alia eliciting ancient Hindu chronology and genealogy that makes it distinct and unique among all.
The ancient Indian texts comprising of the Puranas and Epics largely represent historical literature giving illustrated and ample account of the chronology and genealogy of the Hindu civilization including its cultural and religious traditions. Fables were apparently added in this genre of literature to make it interesting and ethical to the common audience. The Puranic chronology presents a tantalising picture of the genealogy of thousands of years, starting from the Vedic age, highlighting its ancient gods, rishis, scholars along with the kings and dynasties up to the end of Gupta dynasty in medieval period. In essence, the Hinduism exhibits a fusion or synthesis of the Brahmanical orthopraxy clubbed with various Indian cultures including diverse origins and roots. Also, unlike the Abrahamic religions of Christianity and Islam of the more recent origin, Hinduism has a long history of the pre-Vedic, Vedic and post-Vedic periods with no specific founder or prophet like the other religions. Though the chronological history before the Mahabharata era is not so systematic and without gaps but it is fairly systematic and accurate in post-Mahabharata era. In the following paragraphs, the author would briefly analyse the Western perspective of the Hindu chronology and its inherent defects along with the traditional Indian chronology with its relative merits and demerits.
Western View of Indian Chronology vis-à-vis Indian Traditions
James Mill (1773–1836), a Scottish historian, philosopher and political theorist, wrote the monumental work “The History of British India” dividing the Indian history on the basis of dominant Hindu, Muslim and British civilizations. Many subsequent Western historians formed it a basis in their historical studies despite the classification and text suffering with many serious flaws and defects. Some others historians too tried independent periodization based on the ancient, classical, medieval and modern periods. Among the prominent ones, Smart and Michaels appeared to follow Mill's periodisation, while Flood and Muesse relied on the periodization based on ancient, classical, medieval and modern periods. Thus, as per a synergised and hybridized Western view, the periodization of the chronological Hindu history could be briefly summarized as under:
Pre-history and Indus Valley Civilisation (until 1750 BCE);
• Pre-classical period (200 BCE - 300 CE)
Medieval Period (1,200 CE – 1,500 CE);
As already mentioned, Hinduism has never been dogmatic; instead, it represented the fusion or synthesis of varied cultures and traditions in the same civilization. Broadly, the Western historians and Indologists have attempted to link credible evolution of Hinduism with the Iron Age in India linking civilizational history with the composite attributes of the Indo-Aryan, Harappan (Harappa and Mohenjo-daro) and the Indus Valley Civilization. The former represented Harappa and Mohenjo-daro located in present-day Pakistan's Punjab and Sindh provinces while the latter relates to the modern age basins of the Indus River, Pakistan and the seasonal Ghaggar-Hakra river, northwest India and eastern Pakistan. According to Western anthropologist Possehl, the Indus Valley Civilization provides a logical, though somewhat arbitrary, starting point of Hindu traditions. Due to dominant role of the middle age and modern historians mostly in Europe during the colonial era, the world at large see the chronological history of the various from the Western lens largely ignoring indigenous facts and historical records of old civilizations, including India.
As against the aforesaid Western assessment, the traditional history of Hinduism has its roots in Puranic literature. According to many Indian scholars, the Puranic chronology constitute the chief basis for the timeline of the events in the ancient Indian history as described in the oldest epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and several Mahapuranas starting from the Vedic culture. Thus Indian traditional sources reckon the chronology from Svayambhuva Manu to the Mahabharata era in terms of the elapsed number of Manvantaras and Mahayugas (Chaturyugas), the ancient Indian system of reckoning time period. In that context, Brahma is accredited with establishment of the Vedic sciences and his son Svayambhuva Manu as the first king of the Brahmavarta kingdom in a pedigree of at least six Manus. The possibility of few other kings and kingdoms are not ruled out but the recordkeeping of the genealogy of the Hindu kings and their history appears to have commenced with Brahma and his son Svayambhuva Manu. Traditionally, Sutas and Magadhas maintained the chronological genealogy of Manu and Puru dynasties in ancient period although task of maintaining continuity of thousands of years was not easy those days due to many constraints.
As per the Indian scholarly reviews, these historical records were formally compiled in Purana-itihasa Samhitas for the first time by Vedavyasa’s pupil Romaharsana Suta during the later Rigvedic period with certain gaps as apparent in the records and descriptions. Following this compilation, the Purana-itihasa continued as part of the Vedic education and the pupils of Romaharsana Suta also compiled Purana Samhitas. This tradition of periodic compilation of itihasa (history) continued in post-Vedic period too and these Samhitas recompiled in later evolved Laukika Sanskrit, were later known as Puranas. It seems the record keeping of historical events received a setback during the Ikshvaku dynasty King Agnivarna which is apparent from gaps and inconsistencies in the chronological records and genealogy of this famous dynasty. Subsequently, Vyasa of the Mahabharata era is known for the revival of the compilation and rewriting of the Puranas. He is accredited with writing the greatest epic of the Mahabharata and eighteen Mahapuranas. The text of the Puranas available now were apparently again recompiled and updated in subsequent period during 500 -100 BCE.
All available evidence suggests that the revived Puranic tradition of historiography survived as such till the Gupta period with only Bhavisyat Purana appeared one which was continued to be periodically updated. While one may find inconsistencies and gaps in the history prior to Mahabharata period but the Puranas describe the continuous genealogical and chronological history of the ancient India from the Mahabhrata war leading to the coronation of King Yudhisthira to the end of the Gupta dynasty. All Indian traditional and literary sources have suggested the Mahabhrata war in the 32nd century BCE with minor variations here and there but the epigraphic evidence of the Aihole inscriptions establish the aforesaid war in the year 3162 BCE. Though the available versions of Puranas and epics Ramayana and Mahabharata also contain numerous fables and legends of the Vedic and post-Vedic period, including the genealogy of the dynasties and lineages from the time of Vaivasvata Manu but such accounts are incomplete and inconsistent at places.
Thus while the Western historians and Indologists tend to sum up the entire civilizational history of India in about 1,500 – 1,750 years (total 3,500 to 3,750 years), including the Vedic age, before the advent of the Christian era largely rallying around the studies of some early work of the colonial era, the available chronological and genealogical records in the Puranas and Epics span the Indian civilizational history to more than 10,000 years starting with the Vedic age before the advent of Jesus Christ. The Western sources largely rely on the iron age and archaeological remnants of Harappa and Indus Valley Civilization, and majority left leaning Indian historians too have relied only on their Western counterparts. This, however, appears to be strange and bizarre to restrict the human civilizational histories to merely three or four millennia just because some inconsistencies occur in the early history of various civilizations. While traditional Indian historians and scholars insist on Vedic age to have started at least 9 to 10 thousand years prior to the Christian era, many other contemporary civilizations including Greeks too have similar periodicity. The famous Greek philosopher Plato had written in 360 BCE about the legend of Atlantis nearly 9,000 years before his time, an island civilization populated by the technologically advanced and prosperous people. Hence such independent civilizational accounts in different parts of world cannot merely be a coincidence of the fictional tales.
Hindu Chronology from Traditional Indian Prism
While the Puranas narrate the continuous and fairlyquite systematic chronological and genealogical history of the ancient India from the Mahabharata era to Gupta period; however, difficulties have been experienced to credibly establish the same for the ancient Hindu civilization prior to the date of the Mahabharata war. The available versions of the Puranas and two Epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, have described numerous legendary accounts from the Vedic and post-Vedic period including genealogical information of various dynasties and lineages commencing from the age of Vaivasvata Manu. Traditionally, the Puranas had followed the timeline of Chaturyuga cycle for narrating the chronological history but the revision of this cycle at different points of time during the post-Vedic and post-Ramayana eras probably to achieve accurate astronomical calculations led to somewhat enlarged and distorted timeline leading to stated gaps and inconsistencies. Also some interpolations and exaggerations of narratives in later period too have contributed to the perceptions of the historical legends into historico-mythological legends.
These issues in the ancient Indian historiography and chronology probably led to the colonial era notion among the Western historians and scholars as if the ancient Indians had no sense of historical consciousness and lacked proper historical record keeping. Unfortunately, many eminent Indian historians being the product of the colonial era and Western education too followed the same legacy and notion promoting deep-rooted bias for the ancient Indian historiography and chronology in the post-independence India. Many of these alleged historians and scholars have been either hardcore Marxists or left leaning intellectuals, who have received constant patronage too for decades from the political legacy left by the British colonisers. They have constantly endeavoured to sabotage sincere efforts of the traditional Indian professional historians like RC Majumdar by branding them as “Hindu historians” committed to escalate the Hindu version of the history. This bias and hate for the Hindu culture and religion could be best illustrated by the report of four Indian historians headed by the noted historian RS Sharma, titled “Babri Mosque or Rama‘s Birth Place”, which refused to give any credence to Skanda Purana and the archaeological findings in an attempt to deny existence of King Ramchandra of Ishvaku dynasty and his temple in Ayodhya arguing that related stories were based on the reconstruction of imagined history based on faith.
Notwithstanding strong lobby and resistance from historians with colonial era mindset, the traditional yet professional Indian historians have systematically worked to rebut the false assumptions and methodology of the colonialist and Marxist Indian historiography and chronology. Due to various inherent problems and missing information, such Indian historians and scholars have not been able to conclusively establish the authenticity of the factual tradition of the complete ancient Indian historiography and chronology, but they have successfully exposed the fallacies of the colonial era and leftist historians’ approach. Traditionally, ancient Indian history is recorded in the Vedic corpus, Itihasa texts (Epics), Puranas, Buddhist and Jain sources, Sanskrit and Prakrit poetic literature, regional accounts, inscriptions, Vamsavalis, monastic chronicles, traditional legends, and so on. Based on a detailed study of all available sources, the Indian traditional chronology starting from the Vedic period to the Gupta period is briefly summarized with the estimates of some significant events as under:
The Proto-Vedic Period (16,000 to 14,500 BCE);
• Adiyuga: The era of Manu dynasty (14,500 – 14,000 BCE),
The Post-Vedic Period (10,500 – 6,777 BCE);
• The Ramayana era (5,677 – 5,577 BCE),
The 28th Dvapara Yuga (5577 – 3176 BCE)
• King Yudhisthira Rajasuya and coronation in Indraprastha (3,188 BCE),
The 28th Kali Yuga (3,176 BCE commenced and continued).
Note: Shree Krishna’s departure marked the end of Dvapara Yuga and commencement of Kali Yuga. The detailed chronological history and genealogy of kings post- Mahabharata war is fairly accurately available till Gupta period and for the sake of brevity, these details are not given here. Also the later period history broadly conforms with one drawn by the Western historians; hence not repeated here.
The Hindu and Western Perspectives
The concept of nearly 10,000 years of Hindu civilizational presence in South Asia is indeed in stark contrast to the Western wisdom and scholarship, which rallies around the idea of the advent of the Vedic culture in India around 1500 - 1750 BCE with the Indo-Aryan migrations, and Hinduism developing as a hybrid culture of Vedic-Brahmanic and other indigenous religious traditions after 500 BCE. Arguably, one reason frequently put forth by the Western historians and scholars is the lack of sufficient evidence to substantiate the accounts illustrated in the Indian Epics and Puranic literature. But even more contrast appears in the typical colonial era mindset that consciously and intently built a narrative during the period that everything indigenous, the Indian people, their culture and history, their languages were backward and unreliable. It is strange and rather beyond imagination how some stray studies by alien people during the colonial period can authoritatively and credibly define the complete civilizational history and glory of the Indian civilization.
In fact, the very approach of Hinduism and Western civilizations towards the life and its goal speaks a volume about their contrasting perspectives. It is an established fact that several civilizations viz., Hindus in South Asia, and Greece, Roman, Persian, Egyptian, Assyrian and Sumerian had evolved and progressed almost simultaneously in different parts of the Western world. The other hard fact is that only Hindu civilization has survived in time with its cultural and religious traditions intact, while all other aforesaid civilizations were wiped out after the advent of Christianity and Islam in the West. India too faced the Islamic invasion and rule for nearly six centuries followed by the colonization by European powers, mainly British, for another two centuries in succession. The barbaric alien rule and their systematic efforts to destroy the Hindu culture and religion for nearly eight hundred years during the last millennium divided the Indian sub-continent into many parts and inflicted grievous injuries and damage to Hindu culture and religion but could not destroy their identity, faith and way of life. That raises a question as to what is so remarkable, so unique and indelible about Hinduism that centuries of excesses could not erase its identity and existence.
Ancient Hinduism always discouraged much engagement of human beings with the material world and insisted on the spiritual progress with the ultimate goal for Moksha (liberation) to get rid of the vicious cycle of birth-death-rebirth (Samsara). It has even divided the estimated age of human beings in four distinct stages of Brahmachari (celibate), Grihastha (householder), Sanyasa (Recluse) and Vanprastha (forest dweller) with righteous duties and actions prescribed at each stage of life. Thus by social divisions of one’s nature of work, constant learning, meticulously designed yet attaching limited value to worldly engagements and achievements, structured progression in life with the institutions like marriage and maintenance of family, a structured path was laid down for everyone to move towards achieving the ultimate goal of life. All learning processes and progression in life was focused on the aforesaid perspective of the human life. Even the nature of the Supreme Self (Brahman, God), Individual Self (Atman, Soul) and Maya (material world) was meticulously explained in the Hindu Vedas, Upanishads and Shastras; this aspect was further explained and amplified in the Vedanta vision put forth during the age of the classical Hinduism as reckoned by the Western historians and Indologists.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita is one Hindu treaty that the Western Indologists and religious scholars of the Abrahamic religions so often erroneously relate with the Bible or occasionally with Koran. It is neither creedal nor dogmatic unlike the Bible or Koran; instead, it embodies the essence of Vedas and Upanishads unravelling the supreme spiritual mystery and essential gems of Hindu philosophy. The nature, form and virtues of Brahman (God) and Atman (soul), concepts of Karma and Dharma, theistic devotion and yogic means of liberation by exercising Jnana (knowledge), Bhakti (devotion), Karma (action) and Raja Yoga, and many other spiritual tenets of Hinduism are incorporated in the Gita in such a way that one may not find a parallel elsewhere in the world. Even some Western scholars like Francois Gautier stated in his book, A History of India as it Happened: “In truth, Indians always regarded life as a manifestation of the self and the master idea that governed life, culture and social ideals of India has been the seeking of man for his inner self; everything was organised around this single goal”.
As against the focus of the Hindu way of life on spirituality, the Western world has always been driven by materialism. When Hindu rishis were writing and compiling Vedas and Upanishads and historical texts like Puranas and great Epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Greek scholars like Homer wrote classics like Iliad and odyssey, and Sumerian (Mesopotamia) Epic of Gilgamesh (author unknown), which were basically the earliest great work of literature describing early human life and conflict among the gods, demigods and human beings. The Western psyche was perhaps never exposed to the concept of spiritualism with the goal of liberation; instead, it examined everything with the myopic vision of the material enjoyment and accomplishment as one could see or perceive through sensory organs. Accordingly, their goal of life was also limited to target and enjoy to the fullest the material world and its fanciful attractions. Indeed, they also produced many learned and scholarly people in various periods, who propounded many pathbreaking concepts and theories but always fell short of appreciating the spirituality and vision of liberation propounded in the Hindu perspective of life.
Perhaps this is also the reason why only the Hinduism taught the humanity the lessons of Sarva Dharma Sambhava (All religions are alike) and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Entire world is one family) since the Vedic age. India produced great kings and warriors of extraordinary potential and power like Vikramaditya and Ashoka but none of them ever invaded any civilization or dynasty outside the Indian sub-continent. On the other hand, driven by the material desires and accomplishments, the Western kings, warriors and barbaric overlords right from Alexander to many Arab and Turk barbaric rulers constantly invaded and enslaved various parts of world including India, by resorting to wars, mass killings, loots, arson, rapes, and other crimes against humanity. While Islamic invaders and rulers systematically attempted to destroy Hindu culture and religion for centuries, the colonial British even thrust upon India the Western system of education deliberately to eradicate the well- established culture and Indian learning methods. Many Indians too under mistaken notion embraced that education system detriment of the history and culture of India, and in the process lost the value for the Hindu perspective. Francois Gautier has visualised such Indians as “ones who are always looking at the West for approval and perceive India through the Western prism”.
Inherent Flaws in Western Prism of Hindu Chronology
The Western historians of the 18th and 19th centuries CE such as James Mill and a host of others had been mostly faithful Christians who most probably blindly followed the notion that the history after the Jesus Christ was more factual and the events before his arrival were more of mythical nature. Isaac Newton was perhaps the first English physicist, astronomer and theologian, who was responsible for the distortion of the traditional chronology of the ancient civilizations in his book “The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms” published in 1728 CE. The majority of the Western historians have followed the same distorted and flawed chronology based of truncated vision. Similarly, from the colonial era and the current generation, the majority Indian historians too have mostly learnt and followed the Christian chronology of the world; hence they fail to appreciate the dating and timelines of the ancient Indian history and tend to ignore Puranic accounts as mythical or unreliable and unbelievable.
The aforesaid point could be illustrated taking examples from the other civilizations too. For instance, Plato was an accomplished Athenian (Greek) philosopher during the Classical period in the ancient Greece, a pupil of Socrates and the pivotal figure in the history of ancient Greek and Western philosophy. Among many of his notable works, he wrote the legend of Atlantis city which was submerged in sea around 10,200 BCE after Athens repelled the attack of this mighty island kingdom, which failed on account of the orderly society of the Athenians. Similarly, the traditional sources of Egypt record the chronology of the first king Menes around 5,867 BCE as reckoned by Jeans Francois Champollion. The Sumerian kings list suggest that at least eight kings in Antediluvian Era and more than 135 kings of the postdiluvian era reigned before the first dynasty of Babylon (2,720-2,421 BCE). The epic of Gilgamesh accounts for the legendary tale of Gilgamesh nearly 9,000 years ago before the Christian era. Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock have estimated the vintage of Great Sphinx of Gaza, Egypt around 10,500 BCE on the basis of Orion correlation theory. These and many other traditional historical accounts have been conveniently ignored by the Western historians as mythical tales.
The ancient Tamil Sangam literature refers to the date of Rishi Agastya and the first Sangam around 11,226 BCE, which reportedly also reconciles with the archaeo-astronomical dating of Vedic and Post-Vedic literature. The archaeological findings of early agriculture on the banks of Lahuradewa Lake in Eastern Uttar Pradesh in India have been carbon dated from 13,000 BCE to 7,300 BCE. Similarly, early cultivation of barley and oats in the Southern Sri Lanka has been found from 15,500 BCE. The ancient Indians of the Gujarat coastline were making pottery, initially drying under the Sun but the evidence of fired pottery also exists from about 18,000 BCE. The evidence of sunken city of Dvaravati in the Gulf of Khambat suggests that the city was build around 11,000 BCE and most probably it submerged into sea during 9,400 – 9,300 BCE. Similarly, the archaeological site at Bhirrana, Hisar in Haryana has been dated around 7,500 BCE. These and many other evidences in India and across the world including South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia, Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, etc. suggest that several fairly advanced and developed cities and kingdoms existed since Holocene epoch (about 11,700 years ago).
Thus during the colonial era, Western historians and scholars came across the Puranic chronology in India but they could not reinforce belief in these accounts. The obvious reason appears that they were born and brought up in the Christian society with the exposure of the Biblical chronology, hence their subconscious was not prepared to accept the Puranic chronology and probably their racial bias of looking down everything Indian also became a major cause of hinderance. The inbuilt inconsistencies as also some interpolation and exaggeration in Puranic legends must have also been a limiting factor to a certain extent. Consequently, the Western historians and scholars nearly completely rejected the Puranic chronology treating it mere mythology instead of the history of ancient India. It is not surprising then that they questioned the historicity of the ancient royal dynasties documented in Puranas and declared the Ramayana and Mahabharata too as fictional stories. Paradoxically, the very Western scholars also selectively accepted genealogy of some royal dynasties mentioned in the same Puranas in many cases.
Evidently, all ancient civilizations of the West viz, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Sumerians, Jews, etc. too followed their own traditional methods of the recordkeeping of the chronological history. None of them were questioned or challenged for following their traditional chronology till about the eighteenth century although newer approaches of research in history had commenced after the Christian era predominantly replaced the earlier epochs of eras in practice. Issac Newton’s book “The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms…” published in 1,727 CE drastically and unilaterally revised the traditional timelines of the various ancient civilizations unleashing umpteen chronological controversies. With the advent and dominance of the like-minded historians in the colonial era, these controversies were gradually forced to surrender to the domination of the Christian chronology presented by Newton and his genre of historians. In fact, the so-called secular chronology based on the Christian era is often branded as a communal chronology as it supports and promotes the Christian epoch of 1 CE, which itself is challenged by some scholars who believe that it is simply fictitious being an astronomical epoch and not historical. Hence it does not deserve to be the sheet anchor for determining the chronological history of the world.
The Western historians and scholars visualize the early Vedic age to a period of 2nd millennium comprising of the early Indo-Aryans following a sacrificial religion. Disregarding entire traditional history, they even visualize them as nomadic tribes in north-west India, who moved into the western Ganges Plain after the introduction of Iron around 1,100 BCE, adapting an agrarian lifestyle. Such a myopic and distorted view of the Indian civilization, negating the entire traditional history, epigraphic evidences and archaeological facts, is based on the assumption that the entire civilizational human history is not more than 4,000 years old. The colonial era mindset and racial prejudice had only further strengthened this sense of discard and aversion towards the traditional Indian chronology and historiography based on Puranic literature, itihasa (Epics) and other evidences mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs. However, just because there are inconsistencies in chronology, and fables have been added or some legends have been dramatized at later period to make it more interesting and appealing to masses, the entire civilizational history as recorded in the Puranas and Epics, and supported with many other evidences, cannot be junked as has been conveniently done by the Westerners and actively endorsed by the Marxists/leftists Indian historians.
(Note - I very warmly and gratefully acknowledge Shri Ved Veer Arya, author of his recently published book "The Chronology of India" in 3 great volumes of a well researched work with ample illustrations and evidences in regard to the chronology of Indian history. I have consulted and taken extracts from his work as necessary after his due permission for this article.)
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