n.rao at rz.uni-sb.de
n.rao at rz.uni-sb.de
Tue Apr 11 21:34:48 UTC 1995
>I'm not interested in responding to VOI but I would be interested in
>a discussion on how to approach such questions in both philology and
>history. ARticles by Sheldon Pollock and Romila Thapar come to mind as
>possible starting points. Is it possible to be apolitical altogether?
>What are the texts (or other sources) that deal with inter-community
>differences--sectarian puranas, anti-Buddhist vedantic polemic,
>Islamic histories, dynastic inscriptions, alternative Ramayanas?
>Given the competing histories and archeologies of Ayodhya, where does the
>concerned but independent scholar position him/herself?
>Tim Bryson (bryson at harvarda.harvard.edu)
Back in 70s there was a discussion in India about some text books written by
Romilla Thapar and some others from JNU. Some JanSangh members apparently
wanted to remove the text-books from circulation. At that time I remember to
have read articles by Romilla Thapar or her late brother. One assertion in
those days was that the history books till then were anti-Muslim since they
stressed Muslim destruction of temples and did not take notice of similar
destruction of temples by other kings.
At least the historians from JNU at that time wanted to be 'political' and
not 'apolitical'. Their understanding of their text books was that it would
contribute to overcome the 'revivalist' mentality (at that time the word
'fundamentalist' had not yet made its appearance as an epithet for JanSangh
politics). This was in line with the slogans of the 60s and 70s that all
activities, especially academic research, are necessarily 'political'.
I do not subscribe to this slogan, but nor do I want to subscribe to the
propaganda levelled against those and similar text books. However, what I do
want to suggest is that in India there is a tendency, especially amongst
historians, wanting to say that destruction of temples during medieval
period was just a part of war and animosities among people of that time.
This is in reaction against the glorification of the so called 'Hindu
tolerance'. Similarly, because the idea that Islam caused destruction of
temples in India is an emotional issue susceptible to current political
propaganda, the easy way taken to counter this propaganda is either to deny
its veracity or to suggest that if destruction took place, the motive was
not Islamic religiosity.
People in India perhaps were not more nor less tolerant than people
elsewhere. But, were there destruction of temples or not? , or when it took
place, was it just because of animosities amongst different groups of
people. One lement in answering this question should be to consider the
role of the concept of 'idolatry' in Palestinian religions. Practices
prevailing in India, according to the Islam of that time, were not
something flowing from the 'Religion of the Book' ( and I think it was a
correct perception too: The present day Neo-Hinduism, which sees
Bhagavadgita and Upanishads, and even Veda as 'sacred texts' is of a recent
origin), and Islam had an obligation to eradicate the practices that were
not flowing from the 'Religion of the Book'. For the purpose of school text
books (in my school days in India, I had such texts) one may make the issue
of 'idolatry' innocuous looking by speaking of superstitious 'idol' worship
and the heroic fight against it by Islam and Protestant Christianity.
However, The notion of 'idolatry' , for Islam as well as for Christianity,
is certainly something more than a question of people bowing before idols.
In the face of this, there is another tendency - equally strong in some
quarters in India - to say something to the effect, 'all religions hate
practices other than their own'. Perhaps. But a notion like that of
'Idolatry' is not universal. (A friend of mine has argued in his doctoral
thesis, that even the idea of 'religion' is not universal. His thesis is
that in Asia till the advent of Islam, and later Christianity, there were no
religions). To say this is neither giving a testimonial to pre-Islamic
people of Asia, nor condemning them for their lack of some supposed
dimension of life, it is just asserting that some of the categories that we
are accustomed to use in our enquiry into different 'cultures', are not
universal; they are inherited from the Tradition influenced by the
Palestinian religions. Most of the categories used to talk about the
pre-Islamic Indian 'culture' do commit the mistake of assuming the
parochial notions that we are accustomed to, as if they are universal
notions. Idolatry and religion are good examples of such notions.
Remember? Buddha according to lot of Indology books is supposed to have
rebelled against the idolatrous practices of vedic rituals!
Dr. B. Narahari Rao
F.R. 5.1. Philosophie
Unversitaet des Saarlandes,
Postfach 15 11 50,
More information about the INDOLOGY