Hindu history is rooted in the manifestation of Dharma. Itihasa has to be retrieved from the dominance of History, which is a Western Knowledge tradition
By Dr Sharad Hebalkar
It was commonly stated by western scholars of the colonial era that Bharat vasis did not had a sense of history. On the contrary now the world accepts the historical uniqueness of Bharat. In simple words history is that branch of knowledge concerned with past events especially those involving human affairs. Hindu perspective does not take ‘history’ so lightly. It is not only the narration of the past events written in chronological order. History is the living phenomenon of the civilisation and culture of a mankind.
Civilisation and culture
When we use the words civilisation and culture in relation of the history of a particular nation, it is necessary to have proper understanding of these concepts. KM Munshi clearly gives the hindu view about it. He says, “At the outset we must realise the connotation of the word ‘culture’. It must be distinguished from civilisation which means the material equipment of an age, Christ and Socrates were less civilised than us. They wore barks or scanty clothes and traveled on foot or in canoes; we wear fine spun cloth and journey through midair in giant airliners. But he is a bold man indeed who can claim to be more cultural than they. Culture is the characteristic way in which distinctive people live. When certain well defined ideas run through their history and shape their social institutions and their intellectual and aesthetic outlook from age to age culture becomes unbroken phenomenon like a flowing stream. In its course through time it gains vigour, richness and above all characteristic distinctiveness.”
Continuity of culture
The history of Bharat possesses an aspect of universality which distinguishes the history of the ancient civilisations as well as medieval and modern nations of the world. In the case of these civilizations the universal aspect is for transcendental. Again the history of Bharat forms an unbroken chain of one continuous culture and tradition by which the past is linked up with the present. The cultures of Egypt, Sumer, Akkad, Babylone, Assyria and Persia have long ceased to exist. They are mere past memories possessing only an academic interest.
The icons discovered at the archaeological sites of Sindhu-Sarswati civilisation are those of gods and goddesses who are still worshipped in Bharat. Hindus from Himalaya to Kanyakumari repeat even today the Vedic hymns which were uttered on the banks of river Saraswati nearly six thousand years ago. This continuity in language and literature, in philosophy and in way of life in general is more prominent in Bharat than any other country in the world.
Due to the psychological instinct or political prejudice Bhartiya history was distorted by the Western historians. The political history of Bharat even of ancient times has been invariably viewed through the spectacles of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. History suffers much from an instinct to read the present into the past. Hindu view of history aims to the discovery of the truth. It does not allow prejudice and preconceptions to the study of all available sources of history.
Bharat is gifted with a vast treasure of ancient texts representing the intellectual and literary activities of thousands of years and covers a wide field. The earliest literary work, the Samhita of Rigved was complied long back by several Rishis. It was analyzed and sequenced by Maharshi Vyasa some five thousand years ago. A continuous stream of literature flowing since that remote age widening in course of a long period embraced almost all fields of human endeavour throws a light on the civilization of Bharat. This mass of literature deals with Philosophy and religion including ethics, rituals and ceremonial cosmology, astronomy, Geography and most of the natural and social sciences, political and economic doctrines and practices. It also includes historical epics, lyrics, folklores, biographies. It throws a flood of light and enables the historians to trace the various stages in the development of culture and civilization. The other countries miserably lack such phenomenal continuity of literary evolution of the real life.
Objectives of Hindu history
Hindu history is abundantly rich so as to delineate the progress of the human mind and society from its earliest infancy to an enviable mature state. The history of Hindu civilisation and culture manifests itself in a way and form, altogether different from that with which we are familiar in the world. To understand the Hindu perspective, we have consequently to approach the history of India in a way of different spirit and adopt a different scale of values in order to appraise Bhartiya culture and civilisation.
The wars and conquests, the rise and fall of empires and nations and the development of ideas and institutions was never the principle object of historical study. In Hindu perspective of historical study, such events were relegated to a position of secondary importance. More stress is to be laid upon philosophy, religion, art and letters the development of social and moral ideas. The ascending progress of humanitarian ideals and institutions form the distinctive feature of the spiritual life of Bharat is her greatest contribution to the civilisation of the world.
Creative process of Hindu history:
The etymology of Itihas gives us the decisive definition of history, “Iti (इति)+ Ha (ह)+ Aas(आस).”
Decidedly it happened like this. Another definition that comes in Mahabharata explains the Hindu view of the objective of the Itihas. This definition deals with the Hindu way of life as well as ultimate goal of life of the man and society.
Dharma here is not the religion. It is the way of living. It is a culture in its most comprehensive meaning. It includes modes of life and canons of conduct, tradition and outlook, wealth of language and literature, social organism and living ideas. Naturally Dharma is the Adhisthan (Base) of the material as well as spiritual achievements of human life i.e. Artha (wealth) Kama (desires), and Moksha. (final liberation-self realization). These four matters (Purusharthas) initiated by divine instructions uphold the man and society (Vyashti and Samashti). When this creative process is explained through the past events in the form of stories it becomes Itihas’.
Refusal of Western chronology and periods
To understand the Hindu perspective of such a long history one has to accept the cosmic order, the science of five matters (Panchabhutas Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Space) and above all that the human is the part of the nature. Hindu history begins with the creation of universe.
Hindu astronomers developed the kalaganana (chronology) taking in to consideration the movements of the Earth, Moon, Sun and the galaxies. According to Hindu calendar presently we are in the 5120th year of Kaliyuga which is the part of 28th Mahayuga of seventh Manavantar. Parardha, Kalpa, Manvantar, Mahayug and yuga these are the scientific astronomic as measures of Hindu Kalaganana.
This calendar is memorised and uttered at the beginning of individual as well as social rituals and ceremonies still today throughout Bharat.
This recitation called ‘Sankalpa’ is accompanied with the geographical stand point also. Geography is the essential part of the Bharateeya history. We find the exact astronomical references of the past events narrated in puranas as well as in Remayana and Mahabharata.
Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas were the text books of Bharateeya history up to 18th century. But the European historians stamped the vast literary sources of Bharateeya history as Myth. They divided the periods of Bharateeya history as ancient period starting from Alexander’s invasion in fourth centaury B.C.E., medieval period starting with muslim invasion in thirteenth century CE and the modern with the advent of the British.
The period before Alexander’s invasion was termed as pre-history. This model of ancient, medieval and modern periods of history is applicable to European countries. In case of Bharteeya history Hindu view decidedly refuses this naughty model.
Constant struggle-Vitality of Bharat
The history of Bharat has uninterrupted continuity in spite of foreign invasions, As the Hindus have history of thousands of years the Hindu nation has fought long wars often to keep the identity of the nation. Twenty five hundred years back Persia attacked Bharat. It was a hundred years war after which Persians were decisively defeated and driven out of Sindh, Panjab and Gandhar. The invasion of Alexander was more serious. After his death his successors were also active, for about three hundred years they were harassing outposts of northwest frontiers of Bharat from Bactria and Gandhar. In the first century BCE finally the Greeks disappeared for ever. The struggle with Shakas was the war of five hundred years. Two samvatsaras (eras) were established in the memory of victories over them, which are in Vogue presently in Bharat. The Huns who tottered the powerful Roman Empire in fourth century invaded Bharat with the same zeal to destroy Bharat. It was also a long war of Seventy five years, after which they not only were defeated they lost their historical identity for ever.
In the seventh century the Arabs invaded Egypt, ceria, Iraq (Mesopotamia), Turkestan and Persia. All these countries were conquered and disconnected to their cultures. Losing the ancient original identity for ever these countries became muslim countries. Arabs had achieved this feat within twenty years only. Then the Afghanis, Baghdadis, Turks, Persians and Mongols invaded Bharat. Hindus fought unimaginable long war of eleven hundred years with those crooked invaders. The whole Bharat was the battlefield. It has been an unparallel example of war in the world, In the nineteenth century the British invaders seemed to be firmly rooted in Bharat, but it proved to be a myth. It was a war of ninety years from 1857 to 1947. The British had to leave. Thus the nation was engaged constantly in wars still the fountain of inspiration of the thinkers and artists never dried up, the innovators were never paralyzed, the spiritual activities ran on unabated, the philosophy remained unstirred emphasizing the absolute in spite of unknown unexpected occurrences ahead.
World is but one family
The history of Bharat witnesses that we never invaded the other countries. Still the cultural expansion was there. Up to sixteenth century for about 1500 years the southeast Asian countries and far-east countries were dominated by Bharateeya culture. We find an inscription of Mahanavik Buddhagupta of 5th century CE in Malaysia and an inscription of Mahanavik Vasuluna of 11th century CE beyond Pacific ocean in Mexico. A large canvas of cultural contacts of Bharat displayed by archaeological evidences. The chain of thousands of islands from Malaysia to Papua Newguini bear Bharteeya names.
Lastly the Hindu perspective of history, with its inborn spiritual nature can be concluded in the charter of a single short line, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
(The writer is a well-known historian)