Indo-Aryan migration vs Indigenous origin - scholarly debate

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 18 04:34:47 UTC 1998

In all the heat about Vivekananda, may I point out that he is quite
relevant for large numbers of Indians today? Just go into homes where
pictures of him and Ramakrishna and Sarada line the walls, and count
their numbers. It might be due to what Agehananda Bharati calls the
pizza-effect, but still, it is there, undeniably. He is far from a
"local" interpreter, whatever that might mean. Scholarly interest in his
work, whether to applaud him or to criticize him, is quite legitimate.
It is the same attitude towards "local" interpretations, that keeps
people from paying attention to non-Advaita thought, or to non-Sanskrit
literature, isn't it?

If Indology is about a study of modern India, as much as about ancient
and medieval India, then one should look for Vivekananda's motivations.
He certainly did not claim to be an erudite scholar, and we should not
expect him to have been one. He saw his goal as imparting self-respect
to a generation of Indians who had been greatly snubbed by Christian
missionaries, and their depictions of Hinduism as idolatrous tomfoolery.
Imagine yourself explaining to a Catholic missionary from the 19th
century about the concept of an arca avatAra. Or for that matter, try
explaining it to the Pat Robertsons of today, who put ads on TV showing
a temple pUjA juxtaposed with a poor child, presenting Christianity
(their version of it) as the ideal answer to India's problems. One kind
of religious politics deserves another.

Forget about Harappa and the Rgveda. If you balance out V.'s comments
about the superiority of the ancient Indian against the immediate
contextual reference of the "white man's burden" that was used to
justify colonialism, and still lurks under the surface in today's global
political thinking, he seems quite tame. All that has changed is that
"white" has been replaced with "west," and that is simply because of
superficial American PC. V.'s thought had its place in Indian politics,
and probably continues to have one today, but do remember that those who
come in his religious/philosophical footsteps often look askance at
those who have appropriated his politics.


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