Comrade Dange, whose birth centenary was celebrated in the year 1999, provides an elegant analysis of ancient treatises to reflect on the origin of family, village community, Vedas and the state. For him, the influence was clearly the Engels? book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. It is of course not an easy thing to interpret the ancient history, ancient events and literature, using a lens of political, economic development theory. He analyzed the ancient epics to illustrate how the creation of private property has a direct relation to the needs and the emergence of the state.
The first draft of the book, India: From Primitive Communism to Slavery, was written in Yerawada Jail in the period of October 1942 to January 1943. It was a painful task for him. However, what has come out is phenomenal not merely because of the details of various vedic literatures provided, but also because of the way it was presented so that the readers can easily understand and assimilate. The fact that the book is written for comrades gets reflected in the simplicity in the language used, despite it analyzing various Sanskrit literature, which under the varna system, unfortunately, was used by many as instruments of exclusion. The book, first published in 1949, has since gone through seven editions. It can easily be claimed that this work was the first ever in this country to interpret the Indian history using the Marxist framework, especially in matters of the origin of the State, private property and family. The book was written with Marxist readers in mind, and aimed at making them identify Indian history with the Marxist concepts of dialectics and historical materialism. The primary objective of the book was to understand the stages and periods of the history as per the laws of history ?discovered? by Marx.
While the book does a splendid job in analyzing different vedic and post-vedic literature, it fails to provide a wider spectrum to the history of the state. It has based itself in the base structure- super structure tool of analysis where economics become the basis for all changes in the super structure. The role of the concepts of purity and pollution in influencing the emergence of a strong community that has apparent organic structure using a powerful varna system has been underplayed, and in fact has been subsumed in the class based analysis. The book, nevertheless, provided the base document for later historians to comment upon and work on.
Expectedly, it has been critiqued by many, some merely because it had come from Marxist bank of literature while others because the work ignores multiple perspective to the Indian history. The fact however is the book could not be ignored. The book happened to become the book of critics. The treatment and the characterisation of the Mahabharata war, the emergence of household community and village community have been critiqued by later historians. Even Marxist historians like Dr Kosambi have provided an interesting and elaborate critique to this book. And of course the book was not well taken by non-Marxists when the author described various events in the Indian history as forms of class struggle, abiding by the theories of social development enunciated by Marx. However, there was no disagreement that the book was taken seriously by all.
The book, especially the new edition with an introductory note by Bina Deshpande, provides an interesting reading. One should not forget that the book was written in 1949, a time when the history was nothing but biographies of powerful rulers. This book provided a link between the ancient literatures and the then existing political theories. The book analyses even the linguistics of terms used in Vedas, while analyzing the views of Vedic scholars such as Lokmanya Tilak, Rajwade and Kunte. The author'streatment of Mahabharata and the way he linked the great war with the end of kinship relationship and the full fledged rise of the class state was unjustifiably good. The book may be of limited use to new history students who now read new history books such as From lineage to State by Romila Thapar, but the book definitely will open them to new ways of looking at a historical event. For general readers, it could have become a bestseller, if only the publisher had packaged it properly.
(Roza Deshpande, Vichar Bharati Prakashan, Royal Status, 33, Bhalchandra Road, Dadar, Mumbai-400 014)