[INDOLOGY] More uninformed discussion of ancient India

dermot at grevatt.force9.co.uk dermot at grevatt.force9.co.uk
Mon Jul 13 10:10:41 UTC 2015

Dear Jonathan,

Yes, Amartya Sen does seem to project modern ideas of what a university is on to what must 
have been a very different sort of institution, and it spoils the case he is defending.

It's not the first time that he has claimed a specious continuity with ancient Indian culture. In a 
book whose title I forget, he makes great play with the terms nyaya and niti, as if they were 
etymologically related, but without indicating how they are used in Sanskrit literature, or 
anchoring his use of them in any earlier use. I was impressed by his arguments on 
economics and ethics, but thought they were let down by his apparent assumption that 
because he is Indian his ideas ought to have Indian roots, or be made to look as if they have. 
I was reminded of the remark of another argumentative Bengali, the historian Romesh 
Chandra Majumdar: "In a democratic age, everyone seems to assume that a knowledge of 
Indian history is a birthright of every Indian, and requires no patient study or research" (in 
Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, ed. C. H. Philips, p. 426).

Dermot Killingley

On 12 Jul 2015 at 17:00, Jonathan Silk wrote:

Dear Friends, 

In a somewhat different vein than the ongoing discussion of a certain Hindutva partisan, you 
might want to take a look at Amartya Sen's piece: 

In my opinion, while his political position seems to be something close to 180 degrees the 
opposite, he is in some ways remarkably similar in his almost studied ignorance of classical 
India. His portrayal of Nalanda is nothing short of fantasy, and I confess that I am 
disappointed and depressed to see such fictions repeated by someone who, until recently, 
was actually significantly influential in this 'neo' Nalanda project. That it might be 
advantageous to say certain rosy things in a political context is one thing, but the result is, to 
my mind, an utter misrepresentation of the historical truth. A final point is that by portraying 
Nalanda as an international university, using in his description explicitly secular categories, 
the anti-Hindutva Sen succeeds in virtually entirely subverting the Buddhist nature of 

I am curious if I am alone in my impressions of this piece.


J. Silk
Leiden University
Leiden University Institute for Area Studies, LIAS
Matthias de Vrieshof 3, Room 0.05b
2311 BZ Leiden
The Netherlands

copies of my publications may be found at

Dermot Killingley
9, Rectory Drive,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 1XT
Phone (0191) 285 8053

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