History of Mughalstan

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at GMX.LI
Wed Aug 30 19:55:53 UTC 2000

This thread seems another one that could be on an unfortunate
way to fruitlessness because of superficial and inaccurate
comparisons. I will try to give a different view here.

Am 30 Aug 2000, um 4:47 schrieb nanda chandran:

> In Indian history there's not much evidence that *people*
> identifed themselves as nations like it was in Europe. True that
> they might have had pride in being part of the Pallava or the Chola
> empire (which in all probability was motivated by economic/trade
> concerns than anything else), but still the underlying culture -
> the thread of civilizational unity - was strong enough for them to
> identify themselves as Bhaaratiyas or Hindus as against the
> foreigners - mlechaas or Turkas or Yaavanas.

In other words: there is not much difference with Europe (with its
various kingdoms and empires), provided that you realise that India
should be compared not with any single European country, but with
Europe as a whole. (I have in fact been arguing this, also in print,
for at least eleven years.) In earlier times, the Europeans had the
Huns and the Turks as common enemies, again on the basis of a
certain civilisational unity. But this did not mean that there were
intra-European differences _on a different level_. Cf. also the

> The thread was strong enough for brahmins down the ages to migrate
> to newer places *inside* Bhaaratvarsha and settle down to spread
> the Vedic dharma. The civilizational bonding was strong enough for
> the bhakti saints to come together and spread theism throughout
> India overlooking differences in language/region. This sentiment is
> implicit in Thiruvalluvar's claim that unlike Kings who are
> important only in their own lands, the learned are revered wherever
> they go.

Let us not forget that there was a Christian dharma across Europe,
and scholars moved around freely using the lingustic medium of the
Latin 'devabhaa.saa'. Thus, e.g., Erasmus from Rotterdam (in the
Netherlands) studied in Paris (France), did his doctorate in Turin
(Italy), taught in Cambridge (England), had most of his books
published in Basel (Switzerland), toured and lectured in other
countries as well and was widely read all across Europe; and if he
had been an Indian, he would have shown contempt for political
squibbles on the 'Chola-Pallava' level, just as he contemned violent
national / subnational politics in Europe. His _Querela pacis_
would have been aimed at, e.g., the Marathas (nowadays portrayed
as 'Indian nationalists' by certain persons, because they
supposedly fought in the name of 'Hinduism') who went around
plundering the Indian countryside.

The real 'problem' in these 'discussions' is that modern India (which
is a British creation, in the sense that at no time prior to the British
period 'India' as a _state_ existed) _cannot_ be culturally compared
with any European state except in a most flimsy manner. Culturally
and historically speaking, India is not a country, but a continent.

> [...] Maybe it was due to the dominant spiritual
> element in the Vedic ideal which lifted the civilizational
> consciousness above the pettiness of linguism/regionalism.

This is more of the same, viz. another faulty comparison, this one
popularised by Vivekananda, who has done a lot to propagate the
myth of 'spiritual India' vis-à-vis the 'materialist West', where such a
contrast does not really exist; but the myth has a certain political
use, hence it remains popular. (In the West the myth is popular for
radically different, typically Western reasons.)

> >Even if a person has a political move in mind,it is encouraging that
> >he is seeking legitimacy through intellectual activity.
> Yes, generally speaking this is the way to go. But when, as even the
> Buddha and Manu advise, it is not good to speak even the truth if it
> will lead to harm, what is the point in entertaining Samar's views
> which has little truth in it and can only fuel more
> secessionist/divisive tendencies?

What is the alternative to searching for truth? Locking ourselves up
in mathas, madrasas, seminaries etc., each with his own myth of
'spirituality' ? This may not be everybody's cup of tea.

Even if Samar Abbas' original message looks a little quirky, the
proper response to it is not to ban such questions out of fear of
'secessionism'. Is it not a fact that there have been bloody wars all
over South Asia throughout all of its history, irrespective of what
myth-makers have said about 'spiritual' 'Vedic' tendencies etc.?
And the wars were fought by real soldiers doing real killing and
plundering, who professed loyalty to the kings of their lands, which
were not coextensive with today's India. If one wants to understand
more about how this worked (and through this understanding also
avoid further tensions), one should not hush up things for the sake
of an ethnocentric, quasi-religious, political myth that is not
working very well anyway.


Dr. Robert J. Zydenbos
Institut fuer Indologie und Tamilistik
Universitaet zu Koeln
E-mail zydenbos at gmx.li

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list