What ails Indian History


Romila Thapar in her Lawrence Dana Pinkham Memorial Lecture 2012 shares some thoughts on reading of early of Indian history.  She bemoans that there is an attempt to  communalise historical narratives.  She also thinks that history writing should be left to the professionals and not the dilettante.

Thapar argues against periodization of Hindu-Ancient, Muslim-Medieval, British-modern as British-colonial device with the aim of giving communal identity to people.  Is this true?  Was not an ancient’s view of the world Us & Them?  There was always the mleccha, the kafir, the barbarian, the  goyim, the pagan, the heathen, the white devil  who did possess the civilization and was ever the outlander.  Did not Indians in the times  think in those terms or was it merely clever British invention?  Was it not religious identity a primary identity of all ancient people?  Nationalism is a 19-20th century construct.

Thapar argues that periodization should, inter alia,  be based on “different ways in which religion related to elite and common people”.  This is precisely the principle upon which British divided Indian history.  There occurs a significant reorganization of Indian society with Islamic domination in 11-12 century with different modes of political economy and social structure.  It is significant that British historians did not begin the Muslim period in the 8th century with arrival of Mir Qasim in Sindh.

Thapar writes that raiding temples was not unusual in pre-Islamic times. One swallow does not a summer make.  Did the victorious kings of ancient India take away the royal statues use them for footsteps in the new temple he built?  A handful of such incidents are treated as true for the entire periods.   But on the other hand, there is abundant evidence that Muslims armies routinely despoiled temples and viharas, broke them and built mosques upon their ruins.  In the entire North Indian plains, barring a few exceptions, you will  not find any ancient temples or monasteries while you will find only mosques and tombs.  What explains this unless you  postulate that Hindu temple architects and builders used poor building materials and techniques.

When one looks at Western end of Indian land mass beginning with Iran, and upto Egypt, you will find these were all non-Muslim.  Iran was Zoroastrian.  Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt where Christian.   These are entirely Muslim now with hardly 2% of the population begin Christian and with no ancient Churches, religions icons left.

You have both external evidence spread over a vast geographic area and internal evidence in the form of writings from that period which speaks of destruction of temples and Churches.  However for our nationalist historians, these are minor aberrations by a few Islamic kings who had no religious or ideological motivations of any kind.

But that is ancient History you say.  Let us now jump to the modern period to the reign of Tipu Sultan.  Father Bartolomaco, a Portuguese traveller and historian, claims:

“First a corps of 30,000 barbarians who butchered everybody on the way… followed by the field-gun unit under the French Commander, M. Lally. Tipu was riding on an elephant behind which another army of 30,000 soldiers followed. Most of the men and women were hanged in Calicut, first mothers were hanged with their children tied to necks of mothers. That barbarian Tipu Sultan tied the naked Christians and Hindus to the legs of elephants and made the elephants to move around till the bodies of the helpless victims were torn to pieces. Temples and churches were ordered to be burned down, desecrated and destroyed. Christian and Hindu women were forced to marry Mohammadans and similarly their men were forced to marry Mohammadan women. Those Christians who refused to be honoured with Islam, were ordered to be killed by hanging immediately. These atrocities were told to me by the victims of Tipu Sultan who escaped from the clutches of his army and reached Varappuzha, which is the centre of Carmichael Christian Mission. I myself helped many victims to cross the Varappuzha river by boats”(Voyage to East Indies by Fr.Bartolomaco, pgs 141–142)

Tipu Sultan writing on 19 January 1790, to Badroos Saman Khan, says :”I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam. I am now determined to march against the cursed Raman Nair (Dharma Raja Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma).  (Historical Sketches of the South of India in an attempt to trace the History of Mysore, Mark Wilks Vol II, page 120)

Unfortunately  nationalist historians do not wish to address these issues or to explain why such  narratives are not right.  Arguments are not met with counter-arguments, but  appeal to emotion, illogic, authority and dogma.  Nationalist historian’s dominance has ensured that there is one Nicenean version of  “approved” history  and all alternative readings and approximations must be anathematized.  That is the bane of Indian history now.

Recommended links:

Aurangzeb: information as per contemporary records

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