H-ASIA: Inspired revisionism-Hist. of India (LONG) (fwd)

Frank Conlon conlon at u.washington.edu
Mon Nov 28 20:27:09 UTC 1994

Dear Colleagues:
A fellow-scholar here suggested that it would be appropriate to forward 
this H-ASIA posting to Indology.  I apologize for its length, but I did 
not want to mischaracterize the editorial views of Hinduism Today in my 

Frank Conlon

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Frank Conlon <conlon at u.washington.edu>
Subject: H-ASIA: Inspired revisionism-Hist. of India (LONG)

                             November 28, 1994

Religiously inspired revisionism in the history of India (LONG)
(This posting is for the information of professional scholars of
South Asia, who may be bemused by the intelligence that history
is irrelevant, but must be corrected.)

> From Frank Mon Feb 13 23:04:20 1995
From:  Frank F. Conlon, <conlon at u.washington.edu>
Subject: Religiously inspired revisionism in the history of India
Status: RO

History, they say, is a contested subject.  The subjectivity of
interpretations and the argument over "facts" has flavored the
evolution of the discipline over time.  In South Asian history,
scholars have argued extensively over details and broad
interpretations of such topics as the nature of the South Indian
state, the expansion of Islamic rule in medieval India, the
effects of British colonial rule, the roots of the partition,
etc. etc.

In the last few years, e-mail discussion lists directed at South
Asians, particularly those in North America, have featured a
steady increase in postings, primarily by non-historians --
indeed one might observe, by highly educated people who had
little or no education in Indian history -- in which all
conventional scholarship on the history of the subcontinent is
dismissed.  Interestingly this is grounded often in a partial
awareness of the debates over "orientalism" that originated in
the work of Edward Said, yet without the moorings of knowledge of
historical contexts necessary to considered evaluation of

Also, several writers have attempted to write revisionist
accounts of India's history with particular emphasis upon a world
view which has been associated with resurgent Hinduism.  It has
been my impression that many of these writings commence with
assaults on European scholarship of the 19th century (scholarship
which has been substantially amended by subsequent generations of
researchers) and then borrow from 20th century historical comment
on the contingency and imperfection of any historical account.

The result has been an "anything goes" revisionism.  Since these
revisionist ideas appear in print, they are readily appropriated
by some who seem to think that if an idea can be printed it is
just as good as another idea.  "If I can say it, it might be
so..." goes the expression.  A number of North American e-
mailists of South Asian descent, including many persons working
in science and technology, have continued to post and repost
these materials.  If a professional historian were to get up some
articles on the fringes of these e-mailists' own scientific
disciplines, suggesting that Pi equals 24 and 2/3  or that the
earth was flat, there would be great amusement, perhaps

The December issue of the monthly journal Hinduism Today, has
just appeared.  It is available for sale in most parts of the
world, but it may be also accessed via e-mail.  This issue
contains an editorial and a "Time Line" that will be of interest
to professional historians of India.  It appears that at least
one professional historian has associated himself with this
project, but given the unusual qualities of the entire
production, I would not be inclined to state anything as fact.

At any rate, I have included in this posting, the copyrighted
introduction and editorial to the "Time Line", and instructions
how interested historians may e-mail for the detailed contents of
this production.  The ideas put forward in this publication will
be read, and in many instances, believed, by many.  It is NOT my
purpose to encourage a "flame war"--there are other venues for
that.  This posting is for the information of professional
scholars of South Asia, who may be bemused by the intelligence
that history is irrelevant, but must be corrected.

Frank F. Conlon
University of Washington
Co-moderator of H-ASIA
<conlon at u.washington.edu>
From: Hinduism Today Archive Server <pslvax!bit-bucket at UCSD.EDU>
Subject: dec_94/Hindu_Timeline_Article (complete) ascii


Head: It's About Time!

Subhead: New Finds and Intriguing Theories Conspire with
Scholars To Rewrite India's History-Plus HT's 7-Page Timeline

When you learned Indian history, a startling amount of myth may
have inadvertently been mixed in the masala with fact.  The
"official" history of India and Hinduism was set down by Western
scholars more than a hundred years ago, a history based on the
now-disputed principle that an outside group of "Aryans," not
her indigenous peoples, were responsible for most of India's
civilization.  Subsequent discoveries, research and analysis
have unearthed major flaws in that history.  Still, to this day,
virtually every textbook and encyclopedia in the world contains
the same century-old conjectures.

"Early Indian history is on the brink of a change," says
Professor Shiva G.  Bajpai, co-author of the monumental work A
Historical Atlas of South Asia.  He told Hinduism Today that
"Archaeological explorations taking place in the recent decade
have changed many of the views we used to hold as being very
historical.  Many do not even know what they have excavated so

Revising India's history is practically a cottage industry
today.  Archaeologists and historians are forming strategic
partnerships, even teaming up with astronomers who turn Rig Veda
observations of the stars into firm dates for recorded events.
Two conferences were held already this year-January in Hyderabad
and April in Sringeri.  A third, the World Archaeology Congress,
is scheduled in New Delhi on December 4-11, where the latest,
most significant findings will be revealed.  Author and Vedic
scholar, David Frawley, reports, "The conferences featured S.R.
Rao, Subash Kak, Rajaram and others working in this field.
Nobody was really upholding the old model.  The issue wasn't so
much whether the old model is working, but how the new model is
going to be formed.  It's no longer just Hindus claiming their
faith in what their holy books say.  All the archaeological and
scientific evidence is pretty much in agreement with them."

The "Aryan invasion" of India is taught as fact everywhere, but
many modern researchers don't support it.  Establishment
historians aren't ready to accept any wholesale revision, and
are slow to explore discoveries which necessitate such a
revision.  Nor is Indian history the only one undergoing
rethinking.  Just a few years ago the Egyptian sphinx was
suddenly dated thousands of years earlier by new technology,
turning Egyptian history on its head.

Hinduism Today has been following the dramatic events among
historians, and our staff has assembled a new Timeline of
Hinduism, a chronology that incorporates recent findings and
tempers the anti-Hindu bias undergirding previous histories of
India.  Beginning on page four, we present 600,000 years in 585

Our seven-page timeline is generous toward Hinduism, listing the
earliest possible dates for events and scriptures.  Bajpai does
not mind, "The Hinduism Today Timeline is extremely important
because it highlights the Hindu heritage.  This is both its
greatest strength and, others might say, its weakness.  No
timeline can be wholly satisfactory for everyone, as is the case
with any encyclopedia."

Editorial: History as Hoax

By the Editor

This issue of Hinduism Today is like none other.  We set aside
some usual features to publish our seven-page Hindu Timeline, a
rich collection of the major events and people that have shaped
India.  We hope you will keep it, use it as a resource, refer to
it when someone asks a question or when writing an article for
your local paper.  As complete as it is, our Timeline does not
tell the whole story.

What it fails to mention is that history, as it happens, never
happened.  History is a hoax.  "What?" you say, "Who licensed
you to belittle so proud a profession, so indispensible a
discipline as human history?  What do we have of the past except
the cherished chronicle of what, not to mention who, went before
us?" Okay, okay.  History is important, but historians know of
what I speak.  Listen to the preeminent Will Durant who spent a
lifetime studying the record of civilizations: "History is
mostly guessing; the rest is prejudice."

It is certainly formidable to ponder the whole of human history
(said to be somewhere between 500,000 and two million years) and
to assess just how much we really know of the past, how well a
few bone fragments and distilled lines in a book reflect the
truly awesome complexity of billions of human beings interacting
with each other, with other tribes, with their environment and
geography.  To humanize it, consider your own life.  Take all
you did, all you endured and attempted, all you said, learned
and forgot.  What is the bottom line?  "Anjali Patel, 1938-2022.
Beloved wife and mother.  Rest in peace." Less than a dozen
words.  It's easy to see that history is but a frail record of
reality.  Multiply this individual example by the ten billion
souls that have lived in India during the past 10,000 years (an
interesting number a local mathematician helped us find), divide
that by the 14,339 words in our (fairly thorough) history, and
you get one word for every 697,398.7 people who made that
history happen.  Hmmm!  It's getting easier to see why historian
Richard Cobb concluded that "The frontiers between history and
imagination are very little more than Chinese screens, removable
at will."

History may be a mental monument to human achievement and
progress, but it is equally a repository of our prejudices, a
museum of our mistakes.  It keeps feuds alive beyond their time,
it impedes progress more than it impels, and it restrains many
of us from living in the here and now, so consumed are we with
what happened there and then.  History is millstone as much as

The bad news, then, is that history is always inaccurate and
often injurious.  The good news is that India and Hinduism live
beyond history.  Other nations know exactly who they are, when
they began, who their first president was.  Their history is
compact, unambiguous.  Not India.  She has too much history to
be pithy, too complex a career to avoid ambiguity.  Nowhere else
do people live in so many centuries at the same time.  Where
else do past and present exist side by side-Sun worship with
atomic research, astrology with space exploration?  Where else
does the old add itself to the new rather than relinquishing its
hold and departing?

This issue's timeline chronicles exciting discoveries about the
Indus Valley/Saraswati River civilization and the present effort
of historians to wrest India's self-understanding away from
Europeans who long ago left behind a false biography of Bharat.
Whereas the past provides others with the all-important basis of
identity and self-importance, India enjoys a leisurely, even
careless, relationship with history.  British historian
Christopher Dawson explains: "Happy is the people that is
without a history, and thrice happy is a people without a
sociology, for as long as we possess a living culture we are
unconscious of it, and it is only when we are in danger of
losing it or when it is already dead that we begin to realize
and study it scientifically."

Hinduism also lies beyond history.  Other faiths, excluding some
tribal and pagan paths, are rooted in events.  They began on
such and such a day, born with the birth of a prophet or the
pronouncements of a founder.  Thus they are defined,
circumscribed, by history.  Not Hinduism.  She has no founder,
no birthday to celebrate.  Like Truth, she is eternal and
unhistorical.  Even if we compel Hinduism to admit of some
immanence in history, she merely smiles and brushes aside the
few thousand years that most of humanity takes as the crucial
narrative.  To the Hindu those few years are a pittance, and
they too perish.  While all known human history lies within a
few hundred millennia, Hinduism speaks of unspeakably vast
epochs, of earthly yugas that last millions of years, of days
and nights of Brahma that span billions, of a universe that
lives and dies and lives again.  Such is India's expansive
reading of history.  Ultimately,  history is contemporaneous
with the present, in the form of karmas by which all actions of
the past live in the now.  That is a living history, much more
precious than any dead one.

Copyright 1994, Himalayan Academy, All Rights Reserved. The
information contained in this news report may not be published
for commercial purposes without the prior written authority of
Himalayan Academy.  (The publisher's request is that the material
not be used in magazines or newspapers that are for sale without
their permission.  Redistribution electronically (for free),
photocopying to give to classes or friends, all that is okay.)
This copyright notice may NOT be removed, or the articles edited
or changed without the prior written authority of Himalayan

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