The ‘secular’ solution for the Ramjanmabhumi dispute – Michel Danino

Prof Michel DaninoTeesta Setalvad’s petition in the Supreme Court, which tries to dispute the massive archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence supporting the existence of a Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid, makes no mention of repeated pleas by smaller Muslim groups to hand over the site to Hindus, since it has no particular religious value for Islam. – Prof Michel Danino

The long dispute between claimants to the site of Ram Janmabhumi and the erstwhile Babri Masjid in Ayodhya seems to be inching towards a conclusion in India’s Supreme Court. How far the litigants will be satisfied by a final judgment on the ownership of the crucial plot of land remains unclear. Meantime, did the Chief Justice of India on February 8 miss a golden opportunity to resolve the conflict innovatively, when he refused to hear a petition filed on behalf of the NGO “Citizens of Peace and Justice” by 32 “public-spirited citizens” such as Teesta Setalvad, Shyam Benegal, Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy and John Dayal?

What was the gist of the petition? Actually an old argument: the Ayodhya developments have posed such “a serious threat to the secular fabric of the country” that the dispute cannot be regarded as an ordinary land issue. To save the country from a communal conflagration, the Court is asked to “direct that the disputed site be used for a non-religious public use.” However, while brushing the petition aside for the moment, the Chief Justice said he wanted the dispute to be treated “as a land issue,” hinting that it would be solely decided on the merits of the title to the disputed plot.But what if the petition were to be taken seriously? Let us consider the implications.

There is enormous historical evidence—from Islamic chronicles, inscriptions and archaeological remains—that thousands of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples were destroyed by Islamic invaders from the 11th century onward. Delhi’s Qutub Complex, for instance, was built by Qutb-ud-din Aibak out of the remains of 27 destroyed Hindu and Jain temples. Varanasi’s Gyanvapi Mosque erected by Aurangzeb sits on the erstwhile Kashi Vishvanath Temple, remains of which are still visible (the 19th-century Orientalist James Prinsep left a fine lithograph of them).

Aurangzeb also had Mathura’s Krishna Janmabhumi Complex destroyed, with the Shahi-Eidgah Mosque built over parts of its remains. And so on. Let us assume that in the name of secular wisdom Ayodhya’s disputed site is indeed turned into a public space. Very likely, Hindutva organisations would go back to their list of potential hotspots (starting with Varanasi and Mathura) and launch fresh agitations. All would depend on whether those were sufficiently sustained and intense. If they pass the test, Ayodhya’s “secular solution” would serve as a very useful precedent: should not the newly disputed mosques be converted to hospitals, schools or such like? One after another, thousands of mosques across India could thus experience the delights of secularisation. Hindutva organisations would not recover the underlying temples, but the public would considerably benefit in terms of public health and education, a prospect every progressive Muslim should rejoice in.

But why stop at mosques? Ananda Ranga Pillai in his Diary recorded the destruction in 1748 of Pondicherry’s large Vedapuri Iswaran Temple; at Goa, the historian A. K. Priolkar listed the destruction of 34 temples, some later overbuilt with churches; there have been persistent arguments that Chennai’s Santhome Cathedral stands over Mylapore’s original Kapaleeshwara Temple. Should some of the churches become candidates to secularisation too?

And why stop at India? Christendom is replete with churches built over destroyed Pagan sites. In the late first millennium, Muslims conquering Spain erected mosques over churches; Christians promptly reconverted them after their reconquest. (Although Spanish Muslims have asked the Roman Catholic Church to let them pray at Córdoba’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, earlier known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba, the Vatican seems in no mood to grant their request!) And what if orthodox Jews started agitating for the removal or reconversion of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock Mosque? Its location was that of the Jewish Second Temple, which the Romans destroyed to erect a temple of their own; later, one or several churches were built over it, before Islam swept by. Perhaps orthodox Jews should demand thorough excavations, and, were their claim to be established, could ask the building to be put to some “secular” use.

The potential unleashed by our 32 self-appointed guardians of secularism appears limitless. Should we rejoice at this formula? And if not, why reserve it for Ayodhya? All the above examples—not even the tip of a global iceberg—are inherent to the history of aggressive, conquering religions. Unsurprisingly, that history has more often than not been sanitized or swept under the carpet—a mistake in my view, as we stand to benefit hugely from an honest look at the unvarnished past and its darker chapters.

Strangely, the petition in the Supreme Court, which clumsily tries to dispute the massive archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence supporting the existence of a large Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid, makes no mention of repeated pleas by smaller Muslim groups to hand over the site to Hindus, since it has no particular religious value for Islam. Or of last November’s proposal by Uttar Pradesh’s Shia Central Waqf Board chairman Waseem Rizvi to let a “grand Ram temple” be built at the disputed site, in exchange for a mosque at Lucknow. Such formulas, coupled with a goodwill agreement that there would be no future claims to other sites, would be a far more promising road to a final solution for this centuries-old conflict and to true reconciliation.

Since, meanwhile, the petition is loud on India’s “secular and tolerant ethos,” which it sees under threat from Hindu activism (and no other), we need to cast a critical look at the concept and practice of secularism in India, both in the polity and in education. – The New Indian Express, 26 March 2018

» Michel Danino is a guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar and a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple Ruins by James Prinsep (1834)

Contemporary challenges facing Hindu society – Gautam Sen

Durga Puja Kolkata

Gautam SenHindu society is also stirring silently, but with heartening self-confidence. The wave of a massive movement … is spreading from the … obscure tribal districts of Mandla in Madhya Pradesh to adjacent regions and beyond, across India. It draws its inspiration from the likes of Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and Chanakya and promises to overturn the long-held accepted norms of acquiescence to threats against Hindu society and the retreat that usually follows. – Dr Gautam Sen

Waking up to the sonorous voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra, reciting the intensely poignant Mahisasuramardini, announcing Mahalaya, is a moment of extraordinary significance for Bengali Hindus. Its memory prompted me to reflect on the catastrophic fate of contemporary Bengal. Dolorous is the word that instantly comes to mind, when contemplating the intellectual, spiritual and moral disintegration of Bengal. Its historic antecedents are in the attempted partition of Bengal under Lord Curzon and its eventual occurrence four decades later. The trauma of the experience gave rise to a self-destructive malaise, paradoxically and inexplicably, presided over by communist refugees fleeing Islamic Jihad in East Pakistan. The final political chapter is being written by the banal phenomenon of Trinamool Congress. Under the bizarre rule of its leader, idolised by many Bengalis, a major growth sector of the local economy is middle class prostitution, testament to the moral nullity that has overtaken its society.

The Bengal renaissance that led India into modernity, reaching back into its Vedic past, gifting the world Swami Vivekananda and a galaxy of luminaries, has all, but evaporated. No profound reflections by a sage like Rishi Aurobindo, unprecedented scientific endeavours of a Jagdish Bose and Meghnad Saha or poet of Tagore’s astonishing talent or the renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray, have emerged in recent decades. And nor is there in the horizon a new grammarian, linguist and moralist, echoing Montaigne, like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, taking humanism to new heights, clad in modest dhoti. Instead Bengal’s post-independence educated class unleashed nihilistic bloodlust on society in the name of a Chinese warlord, Mao Zedong, in cahoots with Islamic Jihad and then fled to a salubrious life abroad. This cynical and self-seeking cabal has since been virtually urging US and Western imperialist intervention to curb India’s alleged descent into Hindu fascism!

Of course Hindu civilisation itself has also been in retreat for more than one millennium, although its reluctance to acquiesce to an ultimate coup de grace is both remarkable and puzzling. In the aftermath of the transfer of power in 1947, completely erroneously labelled peaceful, this historic hiatus of an endless pause from socio-cultural erasure appears to have been broken. Hindus are now descending rapidly towards cultural and spiritual oblivion.

Gandhi & Nehru (1942)Independent India had fallen under the suicidal spell of an eccentric, the kindest accolade he could be accorded, and he nominated a primus inter pares ill equipped to secure and defend the civilisation of Indica. It was also at his insistence that the new government of India was obliged, by the threat of a fast unto death, to fund the very war the state of Pakistan unleashed against India within months of partition. His tragic murder consigned the fate of Hindus and any prospect of social and spiritual renewal to the ideological detritus of the departing colonial power. The outcome has been a conspiracy to impose an ideology on the fledgling republic that eventually empowered Islamic Jihad, Christian resurgence and grand larceny as its abiding motifs.

The chosen nominee for the premiership of independent India was himself from a morally bankrupt Kashmiriyat political tradition of incoherence and imbued with vaulting self-regard that had already surrendered its own community to predators, although the endgame awaited the 1990s. His family subsequently sought to turn popular Indian democracy into indefinite dynastic rule, by nurturing every latent fault line and endangering the nation’s very survival, until boundless greed overwhelmed all judgement and common sense. It is they, who were responsible for the immeasurable tragedy of the Punjab, in a vain and imbecilic attempt to augment regional political power to dominate the Centre. Their earlier catastrophic follies in relation to Tibet and Kashmir are open IOUs to fate that hang like a sword of Damocles over future generations. The recent rise of Narendra Modi, who ended the unfolding calamity abruptly was considered to be the moment of a reversal of rapid decline, though it could not be and was nothing of the sort.

In the meantime, Hindus are in confused retreat on multiple fronts. The best outcome they can apparently hope for and many earnestly seem to desire, is to become like Koreans, with the accretion of a degree of prosperity, but without history or their rich and vibrant antecedent traditions and culture. Korea is now largely a Christian nation and its remaining Buddhists dismayed at waning state patronage of their age-old religious and cultural heritage. What historical national identity Indian secularists would prefer without Hindu antecedents is a mystery, since all culture and memory permeate it. The defining societal hallmark of this terrifying prospect is the growing insignia of the Ambanis and Vijay Mallya rather than the sage Adi Shankaracharya and divine Swami Vivekananda. Wealth, its grotesque display and obscene consumption, imitating the imperialist and racially arrogant elites of the US, is the warped longing degrading the humanity of Hindu society, as it has done elsewhere. Self-restraint and genuine concern for the welfare of the many in desperate circumstances, the essence of self-realisation and godliness, appear to have been substituted by the moral universe of Hades.

Abroad, Indian humanities and social science academics have been whipped, en masse, into an incomprehensible and incoherent frenzy of rage against imaginary signs of supposed Hindu self-assertion. So ferocious is their desire to curb this alleged Hindu descent into fascism, embodied by Narendra Modi’s modest electoral success, they are evidently willing to join hands with Islamic Jihad to protect the oxymoron of Indian secularism. Some among them not-so subliminally seek armed international intervention to protect their terrorist allies from the wrath of the Indian state, under the guise of minority rights, and, presumably, to prevent church window panes being broken in India. The genocidal impact of such intervention, visible in the Middle East, is possibly regarded as an incidental bonus!

Foreign governments like the US and the UK, which have always had malign intentions towards India, want to use it as a pawn against China, though the prospect of betrayal in a Sino-US deal that institutes condominium is the most probable outcome. Significantly, both governments and their European allies, aided by the Republic of Korea, are waging a deadly war simultaneously to permanently subvert Hindu civilisation through religious conversion. In a recent visit to Nepal, I was stunned to be told by several knowledgeable public figures that the Church privately boasts about how a third of the population has already embraced Christianity. Christianity has indeed advanced in Nepal through allurement, subterfuge and outright bribery, including a multimillion dollar inducement to a former prime minister. The dramatically successful campaign of religious conversion in Nepal, across India and within the UK itself, abetted by some infiltrated British Hindu social and religious organisations, highlight the perversity of the situation.

Narendra ModiYet the rise of Narendra Modi represents a moment of respite and hope. Having inherited a parlous nation, in the throes of economic, political and moral chaos, the appropriate priorities for reversing its decline are easy to debate and dispute. And the authority and power he and his government enjoy are not unfettered, as political and social life in India brutally demonstrated in the past two years. The incumbent government is besieged on many fronts by an array of truculent adversaries, determined to thwart even the most indispensable policy measures. International conspiracies, originating in foreign capitals, aided by treasonous domestic surrogates and incited by a suborned anti-national media, abound visibly. The urgent task of national economic revival is preoccupying the Modi government’s attention and socio-cultural initiatives appear to enjoy less prominence. However, the task of securing the nation’s future in a hostile world, by creating national productive capacity and ensuring future electoral consolidation, surely depend on the overall policy stance adopted by Narendra Modi.

Hindu society is also stirring elsewhere, silently, but with heartening self-confidence. The wave of a massive movement, Hindutva Abhiyan, for example, is spreading from the apparently unpropitious and obscure tribal districts of Mandla in Madhya Pradesh to adjacent regions and beyond, across India. It draws its inspiration from the likes of Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and Chanakya and promises to overturn the long-held accepted norms of acquiescence to threats against Hindu society and the retreat that usually follows.

» Dr. Gautam Sen is President, World Association of Hindu Academicians and Co-director of the Dharmic Ideas and Policy Foundation. He taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for over two decades.

Sri Aurobindo


Porus’ defeat of Alexander at the Battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum) – N.S. Rajaram

Alexander taming Bucephalus by F. Schommer (late 19th century)

Navaratna S. RajaramIndian history has been distorted to meet the ideological needs of the ruling powers, a situation that continues to the present day. The pattern though is startling: just as the myth of the Aryan invasion was created to make Vedas and Sanskrit foreign imports, the myth of Greek superiority beginning with Alexander’s victory in India was concocted to make Greek learning superior to Indian. It was a claim the Greeks themselves never made. It was not for nothing that Napoleon called history “a fable agreed upon”. – Dr N. S. Rajaram

According to colonial British historians and their Indian followers, Alexander’s campaign in India (actually West Punjab now in Pakistan) was one of the most important episodes in Indian history. The reasons given are two. First it allowed scholars to establish a chronological marker for Indian history by identifying Sandracottos of Greek records with Chandragupta the founder of the Maurya Empire. This made him a contemporary of Alexander whose dates are known from other sources. This equation, known  the “Greek Synchronism“, is hailed as the sheet anchor of Indian history and chronology. All other dates are derived assuming it to be correct.

No less importantly, Alexander’s ‘victory’ has been used as evidence of European superiority over Indians even in ancient times. This soon led to the claim that all Indian achievements from astronomy and mathematics to Sanskrit drama and epic poetry must have been borrowed from the Greeks. (like: Ramayana was a copy of the Iliad!) It is commonplace among Western Indologists to claim that all Indian science and mathematics were borrowed from the Greeks after Alexander. (If so why didn’t the Greeks have the decimal place value system for another thousand years, which they got from India?) Some even claim that Indian writing was borrowed from the Greeks. Anyone who questions this is immediately denounced as a chauvinist incapable of logic.

The idea is fantastic. Alexander entered India in the winter of 327—326 BC and left when a mutiny of his soldiers forced him to retreat with heavy losses. As we shall see later his stay was brief and troubled. Philip, the satrap he left in charge of the garrisons was murdered by the locals and his garrisons swiftly overrun. Seleucus who tried to recover them was defeated and driven out. But to go by the accounts of colonial scholars, Alexander must have brought an army not of soldiers but scholars and scientists who taught Indians everything from writing to astronomy—all in a matter of months!

Contrast this with the British experience. Their rule lasted two centuries, and at its height included all of India. And yet India retained its identity and knowledge, learning from the British of course but adapting them to Indian conditions. The Greeks were in control, if at all of a remote corner of India for a few months. How could they achieve so great a transformation in so short a time that the British couldn’t in centuries? But such questions are dismissed as chauvinistic and unworthy of debate. So it is best to leave these claims alone and look at what the records have to say.

Greek and Indian records

Before we examine these claims, especially Alexander’s supposed military success against the Indians a few facts should be kept in mind. No Greek records from the period survive; we know about them only from later, much later accounts that refer to them. This includes the Indica of Megasthenes which is only known from references in later works by writers like Strabo, Diodorus, Plutarch and a few others. And none of them mention the word Maurya. Several scholars have suggested that Sandrocottos of the Greek records could have been Samudragupta of the later Gupta dynasty. This would topple the Greek synchronism and place the Maurya dynasty including Chandragupta and Ashoka several centuries before Alexander.

The point to note here is that the whole of Indian chronology rests on the correctness of this linguistic similarity between Sandrakottos and Chandragupta (Maurya). There is no technical or inscriptional evidence to support it. Ashoka’s inscriptions don’t mention Alexander even though other kings are mentioned by name. Nonetheless historians for the most part have taken it as proven although a few dissident scholars are questioning it citing some recent archaeological finds. It is important to note that Ashoka’s date, as well as the dates of his inscriptions are deduced from this Greek Synchronism and not based on any scientific grounds like radiocarbon tests. (Recent archaeological data relating to stratification seem to cast doubt on it, but this line is not pursued here.)

In all this there is an implicit assumption that Western sources are always reliable and objective and should be accepted without question. But the trustworthiness of Greek accounts on which much of this version of history is based, including those of Megasthenes and his successor Deimachus, has been questioned from the earliest time. The late R. C. Majumdar pointed out that we must give up any notion that they were somehow more reliable than others—a view propagated by colonial historians. Even the ancient Strabo (c. 65 BC—c. 24 AD) wrote: “Generally speaking, the men who hitherto have written on the affairs of India were a set of liars. Deimachus holds the first place in the list, Megasthenes comes next…. Of this we became the more convinced whilst writing the history of Alexander. No faith whatever can be placed in Deimachus and Megasthenes.”

In contrast to the paucity of Greek records, we have ample records from Indian sources—Hindu, Buddhist and Jain—from the periods before and after Alexander. The most famous of these is the Arthashastra of Kautilya who was a contemporary of Chandragupta Maurya and hence of Alexander if his identification with Sandrakottos is correct. While they know nothing of Alexander, they do note invasions by others like the Scythians (Shaka), Huns (Huna), Persians (Parasika), Parthians (Prithu-Parthava) and others. The word “Yavana” (Yona in Prakrit) is fairly common in the late ancient age, but does not always mean the Greeks (or Ionians) much less Macedonians.

The first identifiable reference to Alexander in an Indian work is found in Banabhatta’s Harshacarita written almost a thousand years after Alexander’s invasion. In this Bana refers to an Alikasundara and his campaign against a country ruled by women (stree-rajya) or “Amazons“. They are probably the same as the Massagetae whose warrior queen Tomyris defeated and killed the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great around 535 BC. Their country corresponds to modern Kazakhstan, so Alexander would have encountered them on his march towards Afghanistan (or Bactria).

This suggests that the impact of Alexander’s march on India has been exaggerated out of all proportion to reality by historians of the colonial era. In order to get a truer picture it is necessary to have some idea of the historical and political background to Alexander’s campaign which was part of Macedonia’s expansionist policy and not just a bolt from the blue. Alexander was the son of King Philip II of Macedonia and Olympias, the fourth of Philip’s seven (or eight) wives. As Macedonians, they were looked down upon by the Greeks as half-barbarians. Probably to counter this, Philip engaged Aristotle to tutor Alexander in Greek learning.

It was Philip who initiated an expansionist policy by invading and occupying Athens and other parts of Greece proper. To this end Philip introduced a military innovation known as the “phalanx“—a compact and disciplined infantry formation that could fight as a unit. This proved successful against the tribes of Asia Minor and Central Asia, as well as the once mighty but now disintegrating Persian Empire. These were pitched battles in which Alexander’s disciplined phalanxes proved superior. They proved less effective in India where he needed to move against large formations over vast areas.

Philip was assassinated in 336 BC, plotted by Alexander’s mother Olympias according to some historians. Alexander III (to give his official name) inherited his father’s kingdom as well as the powerful army that he had created. He continued Philip’s policy of subduing the Greek states, which they intensely disliked, and expanded east and south until his forces were in Asia Minor (East Turkey). Egypt, which was chafing under Persian rule threw off its yoke and greeted Alexander as liberator. In 334 BC, he turned his attention to the wealthy but decaying Persian Empire.

Alexander’s campaign against the Persian Empire consisted of a series of raids in which he plundered wealthy cities like Issus, Susa and Persepolis, the last of which he reduced to ashes. They were not unlike Mahmud of Ghazni’s raids into India 1300 years later. Darius III, the unworthy bearer of a great name, proved both incompetent and unpopular. He was captured and killed by one of his own subordinate rulers, Bessus of Bactria. In his Persian campaigns Alexander was greatly helped by his general Parmenion (c. 400—330 BC) who had loyally served his father also. Alexander repaid his loyalty by having the seventy year-old general executed on false charges of disloyalty. (This shows that Alexander was not the kind of man to reward a defeated adversary like Porus.)

By 330 BC, Alexander found himself in Central Asia and Bactria (Afghanistan), trying to consolidate his hold over what were once parts of the Persian Empire. He was now near the border of India. He, like his contemporaries had heard a great deal about the country and its legendary wealth. Whether it was his love of plunder or imperial ambition that attracted him, he descended into the plains of Punjab in the winter of 327 BC.

This shows that Alexander was not the first foreigner to take an interest in India. There were others—traders, mercenary soldiers and adventurers before and after Alexander. Some even set up kingdoms, or tried to until uprooted or assimilated into in the region of the northwest. They are referred to as the Indo-Greeks. They should be seen as part and parcel of long-standing encounters between India and the people to the west though most of them were not military in nature. We need to have some idea of this to get a truer picture of Alexander’s campaign and its impact.

“History—a fable agreed upon”

Links between India and the West, including the Mediterranean world of Greece, Ionia, Egypt and Rome is of untold antiquity. It is important to recognize that the ancient Greeks did not see themselves as Europeans, but as one with other people of the Mediterranean region that included Egypt, Babylonia and Persia. To them Europe and its people were barbarian. As previously observed, Alexander and his fellow Macedonians were seen by the Greek elite as barely a step removed from being barbarians.

Other than a few questionable references in the Old Testament, the earliest Western work to mention India appears to be the Histories of Herodotus (c. 484—425 BC). His writings indicate that there were others before him who had visited India including possibly Pythagoras (c. 570—495 BC). It is not known if Herodotus himself was ever in India. His writings (or those ascribed to him) do not suggest any great familiarity with India of the time. But they do show that India and its people were already familiar to the Greeks centuries before Alexander.

Until the campaigns of Alexander, there was no large-scale Greek presence in India though a few Greek colonies did exist in the northwestern regions of the subcontinent. Following his failure to gain a position in India and the defeat of his successor Seleucus Nikator, relationships between the Indians and the Greeks and the Romans later, was mainly through trade and diplomacy. Also the Greeks and other ancient peoples did not see themselves as in any way superior, only different. Herodotus in fact is full of admiration for Egyptians, Persians and the Ethiopians (Africans). The notion of Greeks as superior to Indians and other non-Europeans was a conceit introduced by Europeans of the colonial period.

To preserve this conceit of “European” superiority, colonial officials made the Greeks all but the bringers of knowledge to India—a claim the Greeks themselves never made. As a first step, these “scholars” turned what was Alexander’s disastrous defeat into a victory that somehow resulted in his “defeated” opponent ending up with more territory! Alexander also had to face a mutiny by his supposedly “victorious” army and forced to beat a hasty retreat that resulted in the near destruction of his army and his own premature death. Further, his position became so weak that Alexander dared not return by the northern route by which he had come but took the forbiddingly inhospitable southern desert route where water is very scarce. (This is reflected in the legend of how Alexander on his deathbed gave the last cup of water he was about to drink to a thirsty soldier.)

This historically realistic picture was first brought to light—to Indians at least—by the famous Russian general and military thinker Marshal Georgy Zhukov. In his convocation address delivered at the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, Zhukov stated that Alexander’s conduct in the aftermath of his battle with Porus showed that he had suffered a catastrophic defeat. According to Zhukov, Alexander in his Indian campaign had fared far worse than Napoleon in Russia. A careful examination of Greek and Roman sources like Plutarch reinforces Zhukov’s analysis who was undoubtedly familiar with them. In particular it shows that his supposed victory over Porus was a later fabrication.

Here is how Plutarch described Alexander’s “victory”: “This last combat with Porus took off the edge of the Macedonians’ courage and stayed their further progress in India…. Alexander not only offered to Porus to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself but gave him also the additional territory of various independent tribes whom he had subdued.” So Porus emerged from his war with his territory doubled and his gold stock augmented. This can only mean that Alexander had to buy peace with Porus to ensure a safe passage for himself and his troops. How this constitutes victory is known only to colonial historians and their gullible Indian followers.

Worse fate awaited Alexander and his army on their way south. As he was trying to withdraw, Alexander nearly lost his life in a battle near Mulasthana (the modern Multan), and managed to escape thanks to the bravery of his friend Peucestas who sacrificed his life to save Alexander. Alexander and what was left of his army beat a hasty retreat towards Babylon through Sind only to be decimated. The “world conqueror” died in Babylon—a shadow of his arrogant self. All this is recorded by Plutarch who goes on to add, “Alexander left deceptive monuments to exaggerate the scale of his successes in India.”

This should give an idea of how seriously Indian history has been distorted to meet the ideological needs of the ruling powers, a situation that continues to the present day. The pattern though is startling: just as the myth of the Aryan invasion was created to make Vedas and Sanskrit foreign imports, the myth of Greek superiority beginning with Alexander’s victory in India was concocted to make Greek learning superior to Indian. It was a claim the Greeks themselves never made. It was not for nothing that Napoleon called history a “fable agreed upon.”

(To balance this it should be added that the 1941 movie Sikander with Sohrab Modi as the brave but defeated Porus and Prithviraj Kapoor as the victorious Alexander chivalrously restoring the defeated Porus to his kingdom did as much to seal the myth of Alexander and his nobility as any colonial era history book. It was released at the height of World War II when the nationalist sentiment was running high. It captured the mood of the people.)

In conclusion we may say that while ancient records may not give us a full picture of the Battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum River) between Alexander and Porus, they certainly tell us it was far from being a victory. Of one thing we can be sure: like Napoleon’s march on Moscow, it was the beginning of the end of Alexander’s career as world conqueror. After a disastrous retreat through Sindh and Makran, Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC, broken in health and spirit. – Folks Magazine, 2 March 2012

» Dr. Navaratna Srinivasa Rajaram is a mathematician and historian who publishes with Voice of India.

See also

How history was made up at Nalanda – Arun Shourie

Arun Shourie

Given what we have seen of Marxist historians even in this brief book, the brazen-faced distortions—to the point of falsehood—do not surprise me. – Arun Shourie

“The mine of learning, honoured Nalanda”—that is how the 16th-17th century Tibetan historian, Taranath, referred to the university at Nalanda. At the time I-Tsing was at the university, there were 3,700 monks. The total complex had around 10,000 residents. The structures housing the university were as splendid and as extensive as the learning they housed. When excavations began, the principal mound alone was about 1,400 feet by 400 feet. Hieun Tsang recounts at least seven monasteries and eight halls. The monasteries were of several storeys, and there was a library complex of three buildings, one of them nine storeys high.

As the Islamic invaders advanced through Afghanistan and north-western India, they exterminated Buddhist clergy, they pillaged and pulverised every Buddhist structure—the very word “but”, the idols they so feverishly destroyed, was derived from “Buddha”. Nalanda escaped their attention for a while—in part because it was not on the main routes. But soon enough, the marauders arrived, and struck the fatal blow. The ransacking is described in the contemporary Tabakat-i-Nasiri by Maulana Minhaj-ud-din.

Minhaj-ud-din rose and came to the notice of the rulers of the time—Qutb-ud-din Aibak and others—because of his raids and depredations, and because of the enormous booty he gathered, booty sufficient for him to set himself up as a plunderer in his own right. “His reputation reached Sultan (Malik) Qutb-ud-din, who dispatched a robe of distinction to him, and showed him honour,” the historian writes. With its high wall, its large buildings, Nalanda seemed like a well-endowed fortress to Ikhtiyar-ud-din and his force. He advanced upon it with two hundred horsemen “and suddenly attacked the place”. Minhaj-ud-din continues,

“The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven, and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus had been killed. On being acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindu tongue, they call a college, Bihar [vihara].”

“When that victory was effected,” Minhaj-ud-din reports, “Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar returned with great booty, and came to the presence of the beneficent sultan, Qutb-ud-din I-bak, and received great honour and distinction.…”—so much so that other nobles at the court became jealous. All this happened around the year 1197 AD.

And now the Marxist account of the destruction of this jewel of knowledge. In 2004, D. N. Jha was the president of the Indian History Congress. In the presidential address he delivered—one to which we shall turn as an example of Marxist “scholarship”—this is the account he gives of the destruction of Buddhist viharas, and of Nalanda in particular:

“A Tibetan tradition has it that the Kalacuri King Karna (11th century) destroyed many Buddhist temples and monasteries in Magadha, and the Tibetan text  Pag Sam Jon Zang refers to the burning of the library of Nalanda by some ‘Hindu fanatics’”.

“Hindu fanatics”? The expression struck me as odd. A Tibetan text of the 18th century using so current an expression as “Hindu fanatics”? Especially so because, on Jha’s own reckoning, Hinduism is an invention of the British in the late 19th century? So, what is this “Tibetan text”? What does it say? Had Jha looked it up?

Pag Sam Jon Zang was written by Sumpa Khan-Po Yece Pal Jor. The author lived in 1704-88: that is, 500 years after the destruction of Nalanda.

That is the first thing that strikes one: our historian disregards the contemporaneous account, Tabakat-i-Nasiri, and opts for a text written 500 years after the event. But had he read the text at all? Could a self-respecting Marxist have at all believed what is written in it?

This is how Sarat Chandra Das, the translator and editor of Pag Sam Jon Zang, sets out the account of the destruction of Nalanda as given in this text:

“While a religious sermon was being delivered in the temple that he (Kakuta Sidha, a minister of a king of Magadha) had erected at Nalanda, a few young monks threw washing water at two Tirthika beggars. The beggars being angry, set fire on the three shrines of dharma ganja, the Buddhist university of Nalanda—that is, Ratna Sagara, Ratna Ranjaka including the nine-storey building called Ratnadadhi which contained the library of sacred books” (pg 92).

Two beggars could go from building to building of that huge campus and, with all the monks present, burn down the entire, huge, scattered complex?

And, the account of the relevant passage reproduced above is the one set out by Sarat Chandra Das in his Index. That is, it is just a summary of the actual passage—in an index, it scarcely could be more. What does the relevant section, and in particular the passage about the burning down of the library, say?

The author is giving an account of how Dharma has survived three rounds of destructive attempts. One round was occasioned by the fluctuating relations between Khunimamasta, a king of Taksig (Turkistan?), and Dharma Chandra, a king of Nyi-og in the east. The latter sends gifts. The former thinks these are part of black magic. He, therefore, swoops down from “dhurukha” and destroys “the three bases” of Magadha—monasteries, scriptures and stupas. Khunimamasta drives out and exiles the monks. Dharma Chandra’s uncle sends many scholars to China to spread the teaching. He receives gold as thanksgiving. He uses this and other gifts to appease rulers of smaller kingdoms to join the fight against the king of Taksig (Turkistan?). The uncle thereafter revives “the three bases”. Almost all the shrines are restored and 84 new ones are built. And so, the Dharma survives.

In the next round, “the teacher who taught Prajnaparamita for 20 years is assassinated by burglars from Dhurukha. His blood turned into milk and many flowers emerged from his body. (Thus) he flew into the sky.”

We now come to the crucial passage, the one that Jha has ostensibly invoked. I reproduce the translation of it by Geshe Dorji Damdul in full:

“Again at that time, there was a scholar by the name Mutita Bhadra, who was greatly involved in renovating and building stupas. Eventually he had a vision of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra. He flew to Liyul by holding the garment (of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra) and there he made great contributions to the welfare of sentient beings and the Dharma. Reviving the Dharma that way, the Dharma flourished for 40 years in the Central Land (Magadha?). At that time, during the celebration over the construction of a shrine in Nalanda by Kakutasita, a minister of the king, some naughty novice monks splashed (dish) washing water on two non-Buddhist beggars and also pressed (the two) in-between the door and (the door frame.) Angry over these gestures, one (beggar) served as the attendant to the other who sat in a deep pit for 12 years to gain the siddhi of the sun. Having achieved the siddhi, they threw ashes of a fire puja (havan) they did, on 84 Buddhist shrines. They were all burned. Particularly, when the three dharma ganja of Nalanda—the shrines which sheltered the scriptures—as well got consumed in fire, streams of water ran down from the scriptures of Guhyasamaja and Prajnaparamita, which were housed in the ninth storey of the Ratnadhati shrine. This saved many scriptures. Later, fearing penalty from the king, the two (beggars) escaped to Hasama in the north. However, the two died due to immolation, which happened on its own.”

Surely, no self-respecting Marxist could have made his account rest on not just one miracle—acquiring siddhis and raining fire on to the structures—but two, for we also have the streams of water running down from the scriptures.

But we strain unnecessarily. There is a clue in Jha’s lecture itself. He doesn’t cite the Tibetan text, he does what Marxists do: he cites another Marxist citing the Tibetan text! To see what he does, you must read the lines carefully. This is what we saw Jha saying:

“A Tibetan tradition has it that the Kalacuri King Karna (11th century) destroyed many Buddhist temples and monasteries in Magadha, and the Tibetan text Pag Sam Jon Zang refers to the burning of the library of Nalanda by some ‘Hindu fanatics’”.

As his authority, Jha cites a book by B. N. S. Yadava, Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century. What did Yadava himself write? Here it is: “Further, the Tibetan tradition informs us that Kalacuri Karna (11th century) destroyed many Buddhist temples and monasteries in Magadha.”

Jha has clearly lifted what Yadava wrote word for word—at least he has been faithful to his source. But in the very next sentence, Yadava had gone on to say: “It is very difficult to say anything as to how far this account may be correct.”

Words that Jha conveniently left out!

Yadava had continued, “However, we get some other references to persecution.”

He cited two inscriptions and a Puranic reference. And then came to the Tibetan text. Recall what Jha wrote about this text: “… and the Tibetan text Pag Sam Jon Zang refers to the burning of the library of Nalanda by some ‘Hindu fanatics’”.

And now turn to what Yadava wrote about this very text: “The Tibetan text Pag Sam Jon Zang contains a [I am leaving out a word] tradition of the burning of the library of Nalanda by some Hindu fanatics.”

Close enough to pass for plagiarism? But wait, there is originality! Notice, first, that two Hindu beggars have become “Hindu fanatics”. Notice, next, that the words “Hindu fanatics” that Jha had put in quotation marks as if they were the words that the author of the Tibetan text had used to describe the arsonists, were actually the words of his fellow Marxist, Yadava. But the best clue is the word that I omitted from what Yadava had actually written. Yadava’s full sentence was as follows: “The Tibetan text Pag Sam Jon Zang contains a doubtful tradition of the burning of the library of Nalanda by some Hindu fanatics.”

Just as he had left out the words, “It is very difficult to say anything as to how far this account may be correct,” Jha now leaves out the word “doubtful”. And all this in the presidential address to the Indian History Congress.

In a word, there is a Tibetan text written five hundred years after the destruction of Nalanda. Sarat Chandra Das annotates it, and includes in his Index a summary in English of a passage in the text—the summary naturally leaves out telling components of the original passage.

Yadava looks only at the summary in the Index—“non-Buddhist beggars” becomes “Hindu fanatics.”

Yadava notes that the account is based on a “doubtful tradition”.

Jha omits the word “doubtful”.

And we have a presidential address to the Indian History Congress!

Given what we have seen of Marxist historians even in this brief book, the brazen-faced distortions—to the point of falsehood—do not surprise me.

What does surprise me is that no one looked up either the source that Jha had cited or the text.

Indeed, in concluding his section, Yadava had stated:

“A great blow to Buddhism was, no doubt, rendered by the Turkish invasions, leading to the destruction and desertion of the celebrated Buddhist monasteries of Magadha and Bengal. Many Buddhist scholars fled to Tibet and Nepal.” – Indian Express, 28 June 2014

» Arun Shourie is a former Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP and leading public intellectual. This article has been excerpted by the Indian Express from his book, Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud.

Eminent Historians by Arun Shourie