Book Review : “The Past As Present” By Romila Thapar


By Anil Gokhale

The Book to be considered as milestone in Historical writings on Ancient India and its reverberations on the political narrative of Modern India. Importantly, it has become the central core of current political narrative in strange and peculiar Form. The Book is scholarly polemical for revivalists and at the same time conversationalist for keen readers of History. The Book covers and knits together nineteen Articles under four segments and written over a period of last twenty years – since 1989 and offers a proof of consistency in meticulous and innovative research. It addresses ‘the past’ as is interpreted in present to legitimize the political ends. Author finds it as high time to launch a well argued criticism of defenders of those treating the ‘past as the extension (backward) of the Present’ in short the regressive ‘political and hate filled’ methodology of protagonists of ‘Mytho- Historians’.

The Author senses the changing political narratives over last three decades since Babri- Ayodhya event and stand in defense of historical research by publishing the Book in April 2014. The timing of publishing the Book proved to be crucial and crucial since short while from then Mr. Y. Sudershan Rao was appointed as Chairperson of Indian Council of Historical Research.

The book Published by ALEPH BOOK COMPANY IN April 2014 has covered Four Sections, – History & the Public, Concerning Religion & History, Debates and ‘Our Women- Then & Now’. The book running into 326 pages has Nineteen Chapters and an Epilogue critically evaluating the impact of unseemly ways in which past has been used and seeks to present alternative and creative ways in interpretation of History of ancient India and see beyond the present into future. The Notes to the chapter and Bibliography also is in congruence with the narratives. Even the Bibliography of her publications is heavily based on documents published by archeological survey of India

Central; core of the subject of enquiry is “Past as Present’. Meaning past being the driving force of political discourse and the current cultural- political narratives. In the ongoing political processes, the present is mediated through- ancient & Medieval past. Nevertheless no Society can return to the past. The regression to the past in the ‘present’ acquires forms adequate to the epoch and obeys the ‘will of the ruling classes’ and the mode of production and accumulation of Capital. Modern forms of political rule the ruling classes can ‘opt for’ are dangerous and frightful. Author has sensed thes advance into dangerous realms of future.


Of Histories & Identities and In Defense of History

Archeology received a shot in the arm after discoveries of Harrapa & Mohejadaro in 1919-20. Romila Thapar, who began her research in 1960-61, Indus civilization, provided her the passionate ground work and which never left her in span of fifty five years. She has worked on all and each subject which touches it and entered into debates and controversies in defense o Historical truth she discovered. The Civilization which was built in the 26th century BCE, known as the largest cities of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Civilization became the focal point of these nerve biting controversies. However what twisted the debates into bitter ideological and political battlefield and turmoil was the Indus Script and the several vengeful attempts towards decipherment of Harappa Language! This is since it has ramifications on Identity or identities of ‘India’ and its Culture! These essays or collection of essays is an illustrious narrative of Ancient India and its fallout on to the present writtings, by a great spokesperson and a statesman. But why, When & How it all happened is the story of this book.

Author makes a moderate introduction to the story.”End of colonial period was marked by ‘Intoxication of freedom’ and searching for its identity as ‘nation state’. However soon the ground realities compelled the Indian inhabitants to search for their identities. In schools and educational Institutions our understanding of History was shaped by colonial scholarship which also shaped ‘our identities’ as ‘collective of people’. The inherited colonial scholarship’ in history made these collectives to retreat into ‘identities in conflict’. Also the Economic inequalities inherited and deepened by advancing capitalism to search for their own ‘sub identities’. Already ‘majoritism’ was handed over to us by British Rule and it began threatening the ‘Indian identity’. Construction of links to ‘pre modern history, led the Indians to regress to the Identities of race, caste, tribes, language etc.

Under such retarding situation, discussions, particularly amongst Europeans engaged in research of the ‘alien colonial culture’ made One of the most important and significant discovery was the Harrapan culture having huge expanse of Northwestern India, Gujarat down to northern Maharashtra, to the settlements in parts of the copper ore areas Gulf- Oman. Some path breaking work aimed at deciphering Indus scripts, philological – analysis of linguistic components’, ‘revealing of tangible history’ through excavations, all made the impact on our understanding of History!

The theory of migration of Aryan, after the demise and extinction of Harappan Civilization began rattling the section of ‘right wing’ . Spread of Aryan from North Western to Ganga and then spreading south brought with it the alterations of languages, importantly, the language groups, – Vedic Sanskrit Vs Prakrit. Those who could not speak Sanskrit were termed as Mlenchas or barbarians! Author points of various nuances between Sanskrit and Prakrit.

Author intelligently introduces the readers to slow impact of Aryan Migration by exploring the linguistic identities or similarities of AVESTA & RIGVEDA and influences on pronunciations. Illustrations of the – ASURAs & AHURAS (S & H), ‘airiya’ & Arya, or three place names – Harahwati, Harayu, Haptahindu as Sharahwati, Sarayu, Saptahindu and similarly several pronunciations. Similarly, pronunciation of ‘L’ instead of ‘R’ innumerably is very interesting proof. In fact Author points out these similar words may be from Rigveda but they belong to post Harappan Era and point out their Origins in Oxus Plains (Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan into Lake Aral) or in Syria & Avesta of Iran. She touches upon- Historical languages- ideal meanings of seemingly similar words but apposite meanings like Pur stocker & pura- town

What Author is intends to demonstrate is the impact migrations and cross migrations in ancient India right from Syria, Iran down into Indus valley led to ‘immixing’ or ascendance of ‘cross cultures’. Hence Author demonstrates how, “Identities do change with historical changes ‘in contrast to ‘Colonial Scholarship’ which treated the identities as ‘static’ and project ‘Hindus and Muslims as monolithic religions. Romila Thapar refers to James Mill several times to highlight the origins of this theory in Colonial Scholarship.

Another point which Author makes is regarding change in understanding of History. History was read as information on dynasties and recital of glorious deeds. The New research changed the narrative to broad based study of social & economic forms in the past. Here multiple cultures were explored in terms of their contribution to making of the Indian civilization and discovery of ‘plural’ and ‘overlapping’ identities!

Author narrates, how the present turmoil on ‘History’ goes back to, the discoveries which threatened the ‘regressive ‘A-Historical ideology‘, which vengefully began fresh assaults to convince that the myths and phantasies of earlier times were in fact realities of History. In Year around 2000, the assault on spirit of questioning became sharper, intellectuals were denigrated and so also, their understanding of our society and past. Already revenge on History was carried through the mass movements in last three decades by vicious attacks on religious places of worships of ‘Others’, even – regressively going back to invoking raids of GAZNI on Somnath and other temples as justifications.

The back lash of research on Harappan civilization resulted into “dubbing all Muslims and Christians as foreigners. Author argues that how the theory of ‘ARYAN Foundation of Indian Civilization’ is fostered by ‘Non Indians’, American & Europeans. Author counterpoises theory of Aryan migration spreading into North west as against Theosophist theory propagated in India by Madame Helena Blavatsky that not only Aryans are indigenous but also were the fountainheads of world civilization and all human achievements have travelled from India! Author also questions the absurd claims ed that Vedik Sanskrit being the mother language of all languages. ‘ Hindutwa’ has made this as the founding corner stone of their ideology and philosophy! Number of obvious obstacles such as, Dravidian Language has been encountered and stiff resistance from number of Reformers like Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Dalits of his times argued that Aryans have been Aliens. Authors of Hindutwa, likes of Golwalkar & Savarkar have countered this by putting up phantasy that authors of Rigveda are the builders of Harappan Civilization! Thus in these chapters Author thus traces the origins and roots of the present controversies.


The Book begins with Chapter Interpretation of History. However core conflicts are reflected in living ideologies which have been born in 1930’s as insignificant trends outside the sphere of Nationalist movement and which have slowly over first few decades grew up rapidly as “Cultural nationalism’ as main stay of nationalist- Patriotic ideology acquiring now the centre stage, and threatening to become ruling Ideology.

This emergence has progressed regressively with an attempt to hijack the archeological discoveries in Indus valley under the guise of Faith & manipulations in Historical research. The ‘Past as Present’ intends to present summery of escalation of the core conflicts on larger, national and massive scales. The myths and phantasies are elevated and resurrected as Modern Ruling ideology. Cultural liberalism at snail’s pace in initial stage and much faster rate at latter stage came under aggressive attack from ‘cultural nationalism’ under Hindutwa banner.

1) Author has pointed out those proponents of Hindutwa, likes of Golwalkar & Savarkar initially put up their claims that ARYANS are indigenous, natives, the Original founders of of Indian Culture. Contrary to this Muslims and Christians are ‘outsiders’ and invaders who ruled Hindus and hence reestablishment of Hindu Hegemony remains the sole goal, life purpose of the rightwing Ideology. Harappan Civilization discovery and its Historical dating blew up the foundations of ‘ARYAN INDIGENOUS’ theory and philosophy. Since then all attempts have been directed to establish that “authors of Rigveda are the builders of Harappan Civilization”! The built up of this philosophy began surging forward in 1960’s. The major hurdle again was the discoveries of the Seals’ and INDUS script which were not decipherable… The next aggression on INDUS script began by hijacking it, to establish that SANSKRIT evolved from this script over centuries to reestablish and revalidate ARYAN theory. Author’s arguments to question this came under fierce and venomous attacks from the expected Quarters. Thus the central core of this Book is devoted to explain all aspects of this controversy and the philosophical and dangerous social-political ramifications this distortion will lead to.

2) In doing so, Author has questioned the fundamental corner stone of Hindutwa Ideology. Author hence has become the target of criticism since she has stirred up the ‘Hornets Net’. The core of the right wing ideology and the ‘Identity’ is born in the womb of ‘Historical Myth’ that the Aryans are indigenous. As a corollary rigorous attempts are in force to prove that Indus Valley people used the phonetic script and in the late Harappan period the script evolved itself towards and alphabetic pattern. Logically this forms the origin of the Sanskrit Language. This forms the central core and essence of energies of the right wing fundamentalism! At latter stage Author coins the concept of ‘Syndicated Hinduism’ is fascinating and most appropriate concept. The concept of ‘Syndicated Hinduism’ highlights how it forms the major step to bring all earlier sects under single umbrella, from within India and from all across globe and instill monolithic culture and resurrects this New IDENTITY! All traditions of questioning the ‘Orthodoxies’ are being weeded out. In recent Interviews (October 2015) Author has expressed her deep anguish and concerns about the traditions of independent Intellectuals in India. “They were intellectuals who were willing to question the orthodoxy of every religion and all ideas. They were, therefore, ancestral to the public intellectuals of today and I was trying to emphasize that we should be aware of this tradition of thought in India. Vedic Brahmanism had to confront what it called nastikas — the Shramans, Buddhists, Jains, and other monks — and they, in turn, had to confront the charvakas or materialists”.

3) Ram Mandir, Ramajanmabhumi and variety of other issues related to ‘Faith’ are the cannon fodder for accusing the opponents and rationalist as Renegades of Patriotism and turncoats. Hence these Epics and their monolithic presentation have become the one of the core component and structure of Current political narrative. It can firm up the regimentation in cultural upbringing of Indian child, reinforced by Puranas and Vedas. They reinforce the child’s growth into an adult. Author’s analysis of ‘Why Valmiki Ramayana has become the mainstream of Hindu culture?’ is also correct when she points out that “It comes partly out of the tradition of giving greater precedence to Sanskrit literature “and was also “Reinforced by colonial scholarship mentioning these as definitive texts”. Dropping of A.K. Ramanujam’s works, essays which makes interesting researched claims of Three Hundred Versions of Ramayana from DU Syllabus is logical outcome and highlights the well planned onslaught to butcher and get rid of Variants and bring in Monolithic ‘Authenticated’ Version by ‘Hindu fanatics’ as “Ruling Version of Ramayana”. The attempt completely disregards Special and temporal context which is core of Historical science.

This camouflages all differences, variants under an umbrella and hides its essence, ‘We the Aryans’. It gives the strength to unify attack and aggression against ‘Others’. Hence the Hindutwa Historians are fighting tooth and nail battle with the Author and the Historians who do not bow down to dictats of the ‘Majoritism Historians! More importantly through child education for a century this has become ‘our collective unconscious from which all aggressive energies are drawn.’

For rightwing Historians, Ramayana & Mahabharata, become the mediating link between defense of ‘Aryan Indigenous Theory’ and Politics of Hatred. Hence it must be defended tooth and nail, by hook or crook. Author has coined the term ‘Syndicated Hinduism’ which assimilates al ‘Variants’ or becomes an umbrella which ‘hides’ the ‘Aryan Essence ’reified in the ‘Collective Unconscious’. The Aryan Essence expresses itself in distorted form as ‘Anti Islam or Anti Christianity’ as being the Non Indian Origin. The history is viewed on the assumption that in 1200 AD, Muslims conquered Hindus and in 1700 AD Christians ruled Hindus, hence liberation from yoke of Islam & Christianity!

Author has brought together the Core Conflicts and has put up formidable challenge on behalf of Historians to those who are working as ‘contractors’ for fabricating History and raising Faith above Science of History and those who have challenged the ‘INDIAN IDENTITY’. This review is focused on Romila Thapar’s spirited defense of History!

The core issues of the book cannot be understood unless Cultural Space of Epics- Ramayana & Mahabharata is highlighted. In defense of the variant is a significant Essay and contribution to understand the continuous attempts made to resurrect monolithic faith. Removal of Essay by A.K. Ramanujam, the critic, Historian & Poet from the History syllabus and vandalizing the then HOD of History Department, are few illustration of how the variants were threatened and butchered.

Aryan Question & Integration of Four Disciplines

For illustration- Romila Thapar observed that in the Indus valley, plough agriculture was practiced and that the non-Aryan knew the plough. The discovery of a ploughed field at Kalibanghan in northern Rajasthan, which dates back to the pre-Harappan, has confirmed that the food sufficiency of the Harappan period was owing to the plough agriculture. Author is more concerned with mode of production and creation of surplus as foundations of dawn of Civilization in Indus valley. Hence in her Lecture “Aryan Question revisited in 1999’, Author puts it squarely regarding ‘Aryan Question’ around which the controversies are centered and proliferated since it remains the most complex question about Indian history and full blown attempts, to prove it at any cost, by hook or by crook, by mockery or forgery’. The vicious efforts to slander the ‘Other’ as outsider as against native and indigenous have acquired very high political pitch!

Author rightly argues that any theory or conjecture must stand test of ‘Four integrated disciplines’ in order to understand History and historicity”-namely, Archeology, linguistics, Economics- historical context, social forms of relations and Anthropology. Knowing Sanskrit and reading Rigveda does not amount to be an Authority to understand and know historicity and historical analysis or interpret Vedic text. Romila Thapar says that vast knowledge has come up in last thirty to forty years of research and ‘body of information’ emerged in the area named linguistics and ‘structure of language’, grammar, morphology, phonetics, phonology etc. The knowledge has clearly focused on discontinuity and disjunction between two widely separated epochs or periods split apart by two different technologies and modes of production!

Author focuses on her most important insight, “Saying the obvious, that the Aryan question is the probably most complex, complicated question in the Indian history” However it consists of knowing and handling “something about at least four different fields” and identifying cultures, and “the way in which the total society functions and how these elements are integrated”.

Archeology is one by which things come to us and revealed. The second area of expertise is linguistics and which does not mean ‘Knowing Sanskrit’ and interpretation of Vedic Texts. There has developed a huge body of information which comes from a discipline called linguistics, which do “comparative studies of different language structures. The historical context, this relates to a whole series of questions, how society is defined in the past – agro pastoral, agrarian, urban… What is the meaning of these terms? What is the interaction between ecological, social, economic, cultural, religious forms?” “Is there a difference between cattle rearing society and a society which carries out overseas trade? And these are fundamental questions in historical analyses. You cannot avoid them” and point out reference to cattle in the Rigveda and cattle are depicted on the Indus seals”.

The fourth discipline of course can be social anthropology, may be about cattle – keeping tribes in Sudan, Iranian Texts which can provide some clues! Also, so many historians like D.D. Kosambi who have done thorough research studies on survivals of cultural and social forms, Author takes clues from ‘ethno-archaeology’ sites, which articulate two new features in the second millennium, (not earlier), the presence of the horse & the presence of iron and of iron technology, which is different from the Harappan which was copper-bronze, and the sites are all located in the valleys and passes along the northwest and the borderlands. “So there is a multiplicity of groups of people settled along the frontiers. There isn’t a single entry point into India, it is dispersed. And then when we come further into the Indo-Gangetic watershed, there is again, with the Painted Grey ware sites the presence of the horse and of iron technology. The horse therefore becomes a very important piece of evidence in connection with the arrival of Indo-Aryan speaking people”.

The more direct evidence comes from Northern Syria where there is a treaty between the Hittites and the Mitannis, their Gods which are versions of Aryan Gods. Also Author dwells on evidence of fleeting Indo-Aryan presence in Mesopotamia and Syria, training of horses and words and pssages used and spoken by those trading horses convertible into Indo-Aryan.of the second millennium BC, Also thicker connection as far as Rgveda is concerned, is computation of Wealth, in horses and cows, gifting of huge number of horses & cattle’s if one reads ‘danastuti’ hymns.

Centrality of the horse and the chariot in Vedic literature and total absence of Horses in the seals of the Harappa culture, “there are many other animals but the horse doesn’t occur. The horse is central to the Vedic texts. The horse is central both as a functional animal – the horse draws the chariot, the chariot means speed, so if you’re carrying out a raid, the more chariots you have the quicker you get there, you raid the particular place and you bring back the loot much faster than if you were going by bullock cart and bringing it back by bullock cart,”. Secondly, the horse is ritually very important. And I don’t have to remind you here that whereas for example in the Rig Veda the sacrifice of the horse is a fairly simple, straightforward ritual of sacrificing a horse, what it becomes in the later Vedic texts as the Ashwamedha”. Of course “And you don’t get any reflection of this in the Harappan culture”.

Author is right in appreciating Vidhan Singh Soni’s support when he questions The Hinduitwa ideologues, “They could remember it later also? Aryans had superior war technology. horses, iron etc which the downtrodden late-Harappans could not suddenly acquire. Don’t misuse Rig Veda without verifying this fact that the stone tool using LATE Harappans could create Vedas?”

Soni’s comment. “She is correct that Aryans were non-indigenous. We have recently got a solid proof that Harappans were not Aryans. Late Harappans (who were doomed because of heavy prolonged droughts) started using stone tools (see BIPPA 2012 pp6-18; current Sc.2009, No.8; Antiquity Vol. 085. Issue 328, 2011, and some others by us). They were almost finished, no meta no trade. Late-Harappan Sites like Bara, Dhermajra (Ropar) have shown hundreds of Stone tools hitherto unknown.

Controversies on Indus Script and Two Historical Epochs

The efforts are being made to install the teachings of the Hindutva ideologues of the 1930s in new vicious forms, and reincarnate the ideology of ‘pitribhumi’ and the ‘punyabhumi, as the native home of the ‘Hindu’ ancestors, ‘ARYANS and the Pan- India religion of the ‘Hindus’.

The ‘ARYAN QUESTION’ is the greatest stumbling Block and hence the whole efforts are directed to hijack the HARAPPAN civilization and its headways in ancient history by demonstrating that ARYANS as religious group evolved from the HARAPPAN Civilization, its writing script as precursor or forerunner of Language- ‘SANSKRIT.

Romila Thapar as researcher had already been researching into these area which had enraged likes of Dr. S.R. Rao whose research work ‘Decipherment of the Indus Script’ is solely aimed at showing that the “Indus Valley people used the phonetic script and in the late Harappan period the script evolved itself towards and alphabetic pattern”. He claimed that the numerals were shown by corresponding numbers of independent vertical lines. However, the Indus script is marked with innumerable puzzles and for the historians the riches of INDUS civilization have remained unfathomable till today. What Romila Thapar argues is that do not close the ‘Research areas’. Hence her argument stated above holds valid when she says, ”Now what is interesting about all these sites is that they do indicate the coming in of two new features in the second millennium, not earlier, but in the second millennium, there is the presence of the horse, there is the presence of iron, of iron technology, which is different from the Harappan which was copper-bronze, and the sites are all located in the valleys and passes along the northwest and the border lands”.

As a reply to FRONTLINE cover story (Sep. 30 – Oct. 13, 2000) HORSEPLAY IN HARAPPA, The Indus Valley Decipherment Hoax by MICHAEL WITZEL, Michel Danino’s claimed, “Prof. Romila Thapar’s remark that “if the horse had been as central to the Indus civilization as it was to the Vedic corpus, there would have been many seals depicting horses” is simplistic. The Harappans did not include all the animals around them on their seals—they had cows and camels, for instance, yet did not depict them; on the other hand they depicted the unicorn and a three-headed creature, which did not exist physi¬cally. The seals were not meant to be a zoological catalogue, and until we can read the Harappans’ mind and culture, we can only try to guess reasons for the presence or absence of a particular animal” do not sound healthy and appropriate if Romila Thapar’s distinction of two Technologically divided ages and associated modes of production are considered vital.

This is exactly what Romila Thapar has to say. She questions the motives, intentions and methods used under the guise of research to usher up the past to make it or assist in deciding or modifying the current political discourse and narratives. Hence Romila Thapa highlights the implication of this is also that you cannot equate a language with an archaeological culture in the absence of a script. If you are excavating and there is no script available you cannot say this culture that I am excavating is Aryan or Dravidian or whatever it may be. This becomes impossibility because Aryan is a language label and you can only call archaeological culture Aryan because strictly speaking if you find some evidence of the use of that language.

Romila Thapar has consistently argued that under Harappan civilization, use of metal was fairly limited and unless the Harappan script on the Seals is deciphered, the claims of THE dominant Language (SASNSKRIT) is farfetched and wrong! The script can be connected to “with the people just to the west of the Indus valley – the proto-Elamite in Iran. It could be connected to the Mesopotamians, it might also have been used in the Oxus valley where the mining of lapis lazuli was done and Harappan sites were found. In other words what I’m trying to suggest is that the Harappan trader was probably multi-lingual.

The script controversy is central to this ‘ARYAN question, since Stunning and desperate claims that Vedic people and Harappan were identical. Author points out the extent to which these ideologues have traversed to attempt to forge and manipulate on Computer to show ‘damaged seal showing Harappan unicorn to look like hind quarters of a horse of Vedic ritual of ASHVAMEDHA! This fraud by RAJARAM, was exposed in Front Line- Volume 17 – Issue 20, Sep. 30 – Oct. 13, 2000). The controversy has snowballed into major controversy in 2015 (See FRONTLINE issues). After destabilization of controversies & debates involving ‘Hindutwa’ Historians (Less of Historians and more of Mythologists). Romila Thapar has cogently put up her defense of Indian history and society being constituted by ‘multiple cultures, in dialogue with each other’ and stressed upon the importance of ‘forging cultural identities’ which are sub continental and at the same time enable articulations of regions.

Another illustration – Computer-altered image, “ NASA Photos Depicting mythological land bridge between India and Sri Lanka, through Rameswaram and Jaffna” – ‘Ravana’s Lanka’. It is claimed to have been built about 17,50,000 YBP’ . Manipulations seem to be the sole time tested technique and scandalous method of transforming the Myths and Phantasies into ‘Historical Proofs’ for ‘mass consumption’. It works exactly in a way their techniques of Character assassination by which lies are converted into truths! These methods may appear as ‘laughing stock, but shockingly they have the capacity to inflame, instigate and enrage the human instincts and project ‘Collective Identities’.

This leads the Author to suggest how the body of information thus gathered and accumulated through scholarship and meticulous research to reach into the educational systems of childhood and adult education. The role of NCERT & ICHR here become important in providing the syllabus, modern means of education, maintaining quality of education to be accessible to teachers and to ensure that Indian Mind is never closed.

Myth & History- Demarcations

Part III- Debates- has interesting chapters devoted to define polemically the question of Historicity of RAMA & RAMAYANA. It has been argued that the present-day location of Ayodhya may not have been the same as in early times. Buddhist sources locate it on the Ganga and some argue for a different Ayodhya on the Sarayu. When excavations at Ayodhya were started as part of the project on “Ramayana Archaeology” this question was raised and there was some discussion among archaeologists. Was it confusion on the part of the authors? Could it have been another place with the same name?

The extensive archeological evidence available from excavations carried out on several occasions conflicts the claims of Ayodhya as opulent city or developed, “extensive Urban Centre’. It’s a Poetic Flight and exaggeration of Valmiki’s Ramayana. However we need to make allowance for a text “that is acclaimed, and rightly so, as the ‘adi-kavya’, the first of the great poems”.

Essay- ‘Historical Memory without History’ Author claims that at the time of Ramjanmabhumi movement it was pointed out by historians that Site names are often relocated in history sometimes, to retain a memory, to legitimize a new settlement, due to ecological reasons or migrations. The same was dismissed very strangely as the distortion of Marxist historians! As an integral fall out of it, led to next controversy- locating Lanka. Lanka is disputed by scholars over a century with locations covering Vindhyas – in Amarkantak, Chhota Nagpur, or at lower Mahanadi valley in Orissa. “The identification with present-day. Sri Lanka is problematic – as has often been pointed out – since Lanka was not the early name for Ceylon”.

Interestingly, if present day Ceylon is identified as Lanka, then Valmiki Ramayana’s date will have to be modified. This debate impacted the debates on RAMASETHU as well. Thus the aggressive mobilization for RAMSETHU project has brought into focus the conflict between knowledge and faith and between Myth and Science. This stands in contrast to establishment of historicity of Budha, Christ , Guru Nanak and the historicity of RAMA remains evasive and cannot be established.

Patriarchy & Despotic Rule

Part Four of this Book Part Four of the Book, Our Women, then and now include three Articles which dwell on the conditions of Indian women today and the women in Mythology- Ramayana & Mahabharata. This part brings forward the Patriarchy of Mahabharata period which slowly became dominant and ossified- tighter during Ramayana the Mythical period. This part also brings out very sharp difference between two epochs, the INDUS Epoch and EPIC Epoch. Also, the Mahabharata, written in earlier times while Ramayana at latter stage Mahabharata is clan based story. It is not surprising that women in the Ramayana are seen as playing a far more subservient role than Mahabharata.

Women were inferior to men even with simplest differentiation. Men spoke Sanskrit while Women spoke Prakrit. In fact established religions do not ‘demand ‘gender equality. Author’s statement, on inheritance of same patriarchy today ‘in cases of adulteries women were stoned to death, while Khap panchayats do the rest’ speaks the volumes of unchanged social status of women over and after thousands of years. Bhagwat Geeta establishes status of women as sinfully born! Colonial scholarship as well as ‘nationalist Historians’ drew on the ‘golden age’ of past India and created utopia about Indian past and as foundation of Indian Civilization.

In fact the impact of ‘Ancient past’ is more discernible in the ‘primal relations’ in the Family today. Women are the victims and sufferers of the core values of ARYAN Civilization in the sense of imbibed slavery and subordination to Patriarchal values. More so with colonization the relationship of domination of upper castes over the lower castes continued since the middle class formed was more or less drawn in “the initial periods from the upper castes”. Gender bias of BHAGWAT GITA brings Mullahs and Saffron Saints on same platform. Author discusses quite in detail the separation of historical Ages between Mahabharata & Ramayana.

‘Becoming a Sati (The faithful wife’ who is tested on Husband’s pyre) – A problematic Widow’ is the essay marked by investigation of this existence of this practiceand ‘tradition’ not only with Rajputs but also in many parts of subcontinents including Greece. As against Pastoral Society of HARAPPAN, ‘Past as Presents’ in its last segment- ‘Our Women- Then & Now’ has focused on highly pertinent question- Patriarchy in Hindu Epics. If we may in substance be defined as “a system of society or government in which fathers or father-figures control every aspect of Human life and hold authority over women and children’. If Romila Thapar has laid stress on ‘Women’, there is another area, left out, the father- Son conflict. The same is visible in Patriarchal Family System and Political Authority in RAMAYANA as well. Nightmares, Anxiety Dreams of Dasharatha’s third son- Bharata are ‘imaginatively reported’ by Poet VALMIKI in his – Sanskrit Verses- (1-69-8 to 10 &13-14).


It’s a great merit of the Book Romila Thapar’s that as Public Intellectual-Almost clinically, she destroys the very edifice on which Hindutva History is built. Mytho-Historians are attempting to fuel and pander the ‘ARYAN’ Myth- ‘we the ARYANS, the natives’ as against the ‘other’. To develop an ‘Ancient ‘ARYAN Indian Identity’ for Intelligentsia and ‘Hindutwa’ Identity for masses. The fusion of Political Rule and the Myth, Author Fears, is likely to spell a disaster! The contemporary Identity of Syndicated Hindutva and its revenge against ‘Other’ has its subterranean fuel- ‘We the Aryans’ against the Outsiders. Author fears that this may lead to unprecedented fall out in everyday life, on roads, media and every and all walks of life.

“What frightens me the most is the thought of what will happen to the generation growing up? A government can effectively dismantle an institution in a rush to assert power, but putting such an institution back in place to perform its legitimate function, is a long haul. It takes a generation at least. The habit of independent thinking and questioning disappears. For example, the moment I make even a brief critical comment about the ancient past, immediately abusive emails start pouring in from the expected quarters. The right to discuss and dissent is objected to. Writers are being threatened with violence. We are now a society that openly displays its prejudices. Until recently, the extent of these prejudices was kept relatively hidden but now they are visible. These are prejudices that we will have to counter if we want a reasonably safe society that accommodates the freedom to speak.”

Historian’s attempted hijacking of Harappan culture, script and civilization under ‘Hindu Fold’ was countered by Author through highly polemical Article “History repeats itself’ on July 11, 2015 which sounds alarm bells. The Article published in ‘India Today’ carries a symbolic Image of ‘Book of Indian History’ in Flames suggesting emerging Semblance with New narratives, to ‘Lanka Dahan’ and evoking memories of 10th May 1933 Germany. The Article itself was followed by bitter controversy questioning the integrity of Author- Romila Thapar. As emergence of by figure leaving the scene with its burning tail effectively makes the point- current narrative.

The image is highly evocative and can lead to multiple interpretations. It’s an image of ‘Burning of Lanka’ but is also is an image of ‘Book Burning’ episodes of 1935-37 of Germany when historical and psychoanalytic books of Freud were burnt. It also evokes the slow but gradually growing episodes of banning the books, curbing the voices of descent and distortions and revamping of books. We get to know the saying- Image is stronger than words”. The multiple interpretation of this compound image makes it so intriguing!

The movement to “Correct the Ancient Indian History” is one more diabolic plan at the behest of Vedic Studies’, Brahman Federation & a group of Indian American Authors, Activists from Tornado & from Mauritius to compel and force the Government to ‘rectify’ the mistakes and revamp educational system, revamp ICHR and to counter the Marxist Interpretation of History and project and establish that Aryans are Natives and the race has created the’ Indian Culture’. On the Agenda of the ‘Conference’ of Ten Thousand scholars is to launch an onslaught in order to rectify the mistakes in History, compelling Penguins to Recall the Books by Marxist Historians and ‘Indianise’ History. This demonstrates how far the research work and polemics of Historians like Romila Thapar has unsettled the Scholars’ who have fallen to the victims of the mythology and the political ‘intolerance’ has reached to the core of ‘theory of History’. It warns the Scholars of History to be guarded and alert! As Author fears that the Historians competing to establish & reincarnate and resurrect through an aggressive thunderstorm campaign the ‘Historical Myth’ that the Aryans are indigenous, forms the essence of ‘Historical theory’ (Historicity). To paraphrase G.W. F Hegel we can grasp ‘syndicated Hinduism’, sectarian Hiduism are the forms of its appearance- “Essence must appear and shine forth”! Here the object of Historians who intend to provide ‘right turn to History’ is essentially to instigate and unite with the rightwing mass movement involved in intolerance and targeting ‘Other’ around the ‘ARYAN MYTH” and to aid modes of their violent manifestations through use of Force. Even Bal Gangadhar Tilak, argued that Aryans migrated from North Pole (THE ARCTIC HOME IN THE VEDAS- Bal Gangadhar Tilak). It is surprising that he has not been labeled as Marxist. One needs to understand that it all depends upon the stage of development of Historical Research.

The vengeful attacks on Romila Thapar reminds me of an illustration from Mahabharata- the Epic Myth to invoke the episode of killing the unarmed Abhimanyu caught in the Labyrinth and surrounded by kauravas who have smelt the victory through majority and circumstances in their favor. However ‘pre-history does not repeat itself’ being a Myth! Abhimanyu has learnt the Art of penetration of this Labyrinth since he is equipped with research and scientific weapons can defeat the insane raging critics!

Author faces ridiculous criticism that she is illiterate on Sanskrit and cannot appreciate the ‘knowledge pool’ in Sanskritised Ramayana and the epics. It is incorrect. She is acquainted with Sanskrit though she does not claim to hold scholarship in Sanskrit literature. Romila Thapar has been well acquainted with Dr. P.V. Kane’s works ( History of Dharmashastra- Ancient and Mediaeval Religions and Civil Law in India) and top great Sanskritist and had great appreciation of this reformist “Bharat Ratna Awarde”. Knowledge in Sanskrit provides some insights into Form of Rule, social rituals and relations however to accuse her of hatred of Sanskrit and ignorance of the language. It only amounts to spreading hatred about her on Internets speaks of ‘Standard’ of these critics. Romila Thapar has only claimed that knowledge of Sanskrit does not provide key to understanding History.


Romila Thapar is unwavering, cogent, bold, critical and brave in facing the onslaught from every quarters and all ranks of Hindutvaites and their attempts to disregard, subvert the scientific methodology in Historical research. Misrepresentations of Archeological facts and converting the Myths into Historical truth in the name of ‘Faith’. This has been answered in each chapter through rigorous and systematic analysis. Through spirited defense of history not only for years but for almost six long decades through painstaking research Author has set an example for Rationalists to emulate! And through lectures and debates is not just appreciable and but can be considered as most valuable example in Modern History when its butchery is on threshold of volcanic explosion. As public person she has created unparallel intellectual legacy of her own and stands as tallest courageous figure in Historical scholarship. Orthodoxies are finding it difficult to counter her arguments as faithful, curious and innovative researcher for more than six decades.

Author’s Essay on ‘Which of us are ARYANs is very crucial chapter which discuses at concluding part, the impact of theories of racial origins make on the societies experiences enormous uncertainties of social change. This impact becomes manifold under the conditions of rapid expansion of middle classes. She illustrates this with German experience in early twentieth century when racial theories gripped the frowning mass of society decomposing into classes. The ARYAN myth gripped the mass of expanding middle classes frowning with prospects of doom and began targeting the ‘Other”. Hence Author says that ‘origins’ and ‘identities’ must be handled carefully. They can explode in devastating manner. Hence Historians must guard against use of history for ideological and political ends”.

Anil Gokhale is an Engineer by profession and have been a reader and student of Marxist and Freudian literature for last four decades.He has been a professional translator of medical and other literature from English to Marathi. As a non regular writer on political literature he has always been attempting to intigrate Psychology and Marxism.He has t recently published book ‘Condensation And Condescension In Dreams And History: Essay – From Sigmund Freud To E P Thompson’ by Author House London.

Source: Countercurrents, December 2015

Neeraj Nanda

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