Regarding Indology

kaushik bhaumik kaushikbhaumik at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 24 10:38:03 UTC 2000

>But c'mon, Dominic, how logical is this strait-jacketing? After all
>the journals you mention, do not discuss the acronymns themselves, do
>they? Their value lies in the discussion of the Indological subjects.
>If somebody has genuine interest and has read the relevant subjects,
>though not from these journals, can't they contribute meaningfully to
>the discussions? Can't they bring some fresh insight into unresolved
>problems? Wouldn't Indologists be interested in understanding such

Of course, they can.But I guess it has to be a discussion about the details
of the subject under consideration and not the background of the writer -
foreign or Indian or whatever.

>Why should it be so? Afterall we all converse in the same language,
>right? If I claim something and I'm wrong, somebody just has to
>show why - based on reason and factual evidence. Will merely applying
>to some supposed authority on the subject because he differs in his
>views, suffice?

But the sources we study were not written in the language in which we
converse. Things are coded and it takes years to figure them out. In the
case of Indian history it is even more difficult. Things are coded in the
same language for centuries. There is no 'objectivity' to places or persons
when they are written into a text. Convention prevails. For example, I was
going through Charles Usborne's translation of Hir Ranjha and in the section
where Waris Shah describes the beauty of Hir's companion he says they wore
collyrium from Singhaldwip and Kandahar. Usborne, following the conventions
of his times, translates Singhaldwip as Ceylon. But one has to figure out
that Singhaldwip is actually Sangaldwip and means either Multan or,
following Temple in his Legends of the Punjab, Sakala or Sakadwip or
Sialkot. There is a slippage in pronunciation and interpretation changes.

An even greater problem is that in India, almost everything is coded in
terms of the epics, puranas and the hagiographic details of the saints.
Claims are made by various traditions to the same symbols, same people. So
the Pandavas are found to have founded all the cities, towns and villages of
the subcontinent and the dasavatara is claimed by every group. But then the
same city would have been founded by twenty different people depending whose
point of view you take. See John Smith's interesting discussion on the
presence of Lanka in the Pabuji myth. Lanka is probably a village Lankesario
in Kutch or Sind. Ask a villager, he will tell you this. Ask a more distant
observer and it has a different meaning. So we are not speaking the same
language, are we? I guess as scientists you do believe a little in Einstein
and the position of the observer vis-a-vis reality.

>The difference between an "amateur" indologist and a scholar is that
>the latter has formal academic training on the subject. Though such
>training has its own advantages, it still doesn't ensure truth in
>every claim the scholar makes. If the amatuer too has studied the same
>material, how can you be so sure that he cannot come out with quality
>work on the subject? If the quality of his work is doubted, let it be
>done on the soundness of the argument itself.

The 'soundness of the argument' in the case of Indian history is a vast
subject. There are versions and there are versions. The Ganga is used as a
metaphor to describe any important waterway. After a while the metaphoric
meaning starts to solidify into 'objective' fact, i.e. if we only look at
texts. Only when many versions of the stories have been collected then only
can soundness start to be even glimpsed. that is what the Indologists are
doing. We are dealing with belief systems and not a proof-based tradition of

>Here we come to the crux of the problem. There are two positions
>- intuitive and analytical. The one who would combine both is ideally
>an Indian Indologist. He would have grown up in the culture and also
>been exposed to the analytic way of history writing. If free from
>political/ideological prejudices, he would indeed be the model >Indologist.

>Regarding the two other players in the field - foreign Indologists
>and amatuer Indian Indologists, I've already explained the weakness of
>the former - they lack intuitive insight since they're not part of
>the culture. With the latter though they have intuitive insight into
>the subject due to growing up in it, your complaint is that they
>lack the analytic skills. Let me disagree with you here - most of
>the amateur Indian Indologists you see on this list are from a
>scientific/mathematical background : they are software engineers,
>astronomers, molecular or aerospace scientists - in whose fields
>analytical skills are of the utmost importance. Day in and day out,
>they use these skills in their work - that they're good at it can
>be confirmed in the way foreign countries are wooing them.

Thats precisely the point. They are good at what they are doing. But that
should make clear to them how the requirements of each discipline are bound
by the rules of the discipline. You might be a good nuclear scientist
working on isotopes and ionisation. But that does not mean that you can cure
a disease that involves Calcium ion channel blockage of the heart. Nor can
you even pretend to understand the dynamics of the disease. Intuitive
understanding comes only after a lot of facts have been gathered. Intuition
can guide analysis and - sticking to Ceylon - serendipity can aid us as
magically as any djinn's wondrous lamp. But as such stories make it clear it
can do so only once in a while. The rest is hard work.

>I hope nobody is going to say that analysis differs when it comes to
>Indology! Logic is logic - analysis is analysis - whether software or
>history or philosophy - we systematically sift through the available
>evidence and try to come out with the best possible solution. Ofcourse,
>it could be pointed out that even such sifting of evidence requires
>some knowledge of the subject - sure, but then let that be decided on
>the strength of the argument itself.

Again as I was saying earlier, the important thing about history is who says
it and when and how. The strength of the argument comes much later. Social
scientists are not involved in proving things. I hope neither are the
scientists, otherwise we would have proven all there is to prove in the
world and lived happily ever after. Logic is not logic and analysis is not
analysis. One has to know the nature of one's object of study. That takes a
lot of time as even scientists will be aware of.

>I am reminded on the movie, "White guys can't jump", where
>Wesley Snipes mocks Woody Harleson for listening to Jimi Hendrix.
>He simply says, "you (because Harleson is white) cannot 'know'
>Hendrix, man!".

This a most strange argument to make. I listen to music and enjoy it. What
is there to 'know' about it. Even if there is, then it depends on our
conditioning. It depends on what I have heard from my childhood and above
all on my moods. I am sure there are a lot of people who do not like the
kind of music I like but it is their choice and I have made mine.I would be
extremely annoyed if someone came and told me that he or she did not like
the way I 'liked' my music, and specially music. That has more to do with my
subjective experience. People can appropriate music (and that is what Snipes
is doing vis-a-vis Harrelson)for whatever causes but that has nothing to do
with 'knowing' music. Gohar Jaan, the famous singer of the early part of the
century could sing in 20 languages. She was the most famous exponent of
Indian classical music. And she was an Armenian Jew. Surely one would not
argue she did not 'know'. And there are people who believe and pray to so
many kinds of divinities. Will you say that the person praying to a Muslim
saint has to know 'Islam' in order to do so. All of us, consciously or
unconsciously, live on cultural borders and that is an experience that can
have 'strong arguments'in its favour as well.

Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at

Share information about yourself, create your own public profile at

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list