The books by Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963), the founder of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh are treasures on the Spirituality/Hinduism shelves in public libraries. His book All About Hinduism (1st ed. 1947) apprised me about the Hindu concept of history. It identifies Itihasa (History) as one of the six scriptures in Sanskrit literature, alongside Sruti (Vedas), Smriti (law-code), Purana (legends), Agama (manuals of occultism), and Darshana (Philosophy). The secular (temporal) literatures of Sanskrit are four?Subhasita (wise sayings), Kavya (poetry and prose), Nataka (drama) and Alankara (ornate language). This left me wondering why Itihasa (History)?a chronological record of human civilisation and worldly events?is included under scriptural and not temporal literature.
The Swami expatiates upon Itihasa, thus:-
There are four books under this heading: The Valmiki Ramayana, the Yogavasishtha, the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa. These embody all that is in the Vedas, but only a simpler manner. These are called Suhri-Samhitas or the Friendly Treatises? These works explain universal truths in the form of historical narratives, stories and dialogues?The two well-known Itihasas (histories) are the epics (Mahakavyas), Ramayana and Mahabharata. They are two very popular and useful Shastras of the Hindus. The Ramayana was written by the sage Valmiki, and the Mahabharata by Vyasa ( Pp.22-23; also available at http://www.dlshq.org/download/hinduismbk.htm)
Swami Sivananda Saraswati was a thoroughly educated person in modern sense of the term. Originally called Dr. Kuppuswamy Iyer, he had served as the chief medical officer in a British-owned private hospital in Malaya for a decade. I had expected that for such a person Itihasa (history) would mean Bimbisara, Chandragupta Maurya, Asoka, Pushyamitra Sunga, Kumar Gupta, Skanda Gupta, ancient Hindu colonies in Far East, Raja Bhoj of Dhar, Rajendra Chola, Prithvi Raj Chauhan, Maharana Pratap, Shivaji, Peshwa Baji Rao etc which we read in text books on the subject. Ramayana and Mahabharata are two ageless epics, which have perennially influenced the Hindu psyche. Though, this not even remotely to suggest that epics are fictional or fabricated, yet their place is above history but not at par with it.
Swami Sivananda has done a great service by disabusing a layman'smind on orthodox Hindu concept of history. To the Hindus, who believe in cycle of rebirths, and impermanence of the world, maintaining a systematic record of worldly events was of little intrinsic worth. Only lives of great savants and wise men were worth, as an aid to attaining Moksha (Salvation).
Also, while the dark age of Muslim invasions, has left a deep wound upon the Hindu mind, the Hindus kept no actual record of it. It is the works of Muslim chroniclers, and diaries of European travellers in the medieval ages, which throw light on the plight of the Hindus. ?The Muslim Turks, goes the first line of R.C. Mazumdar'sThe Delhi Sultanate, who conquered India, brought with them the art of writing history, and have left a large number of chronicles which enables us to trace the history of India from the beginning of the Muslim conquest to the end of Muslim rule. This is no mean advantage, particularly when we contrast it with the paucity of such historical narratives of the earlier period?.The reader will feel this difference as he goes on with the history of this period.?
Hindus began to take active interest in history as an academic discipline in the British era. It was the British scholars who scientifically reconstructed the complete history of India. They mobilised philology and archaeology to unveil India'spast. The English spawned a generation of nationalist historians?Ramesh Chandra Mazumdar, Jadunath Sarkar, Phanindra Nath Bose, U.N. Ghoshal, Ishwari Prasad, Baij Nath Puri, A.L. Srivastava etc. Ancient India was never so much upon Hindu mind as in the British era. It is sad that our standard response to this British exploration is limited to criticism??they invented Aryan invasion myth?, ?they distorted Indian history?. But we purposefully overlook that those British scholars also unveiled India'sglorious past?the Buddhist era, the Maurya dynasty, the Gupta period, the Vijayanagara kingdom. Have you ever met a Hindu nationalist who discusses these glorious aspects of Indian history?
It is a catastrophe that historiography went into the hands of anti-nationalist Leftists since Nehruvian times. But I am equally saddened with the historiography of Hindu nationalists. Their best minds are locked in disproving ?Aryan Invasion theory?; Indus Valley civilisation, and Saraswati Valley civilisation. Others are establishing how all great knowledge of the ancient world flowed from India, and how savagely the ancient West was. Such works might have academic value. But the question is, do they fulfil the needs of the time?
However, they have neglected the most relevant task of history. It is reconstructing a historic identity of the Hindu people over the ages- to the Hindus themselves, and to the world. Veer Savarkar has done it in his last work Saha Sonari Panne (Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History) wherein he has interpreted India'shistory from Chandragupta Maurya to Independence from Hindu point of view.
Not knowing history has worked to the disadvantage of the Hindus. For instance, the Left-liberals have got away with the accusation that Hindu upper castes have systematically denied power and privilege to the OBCs ?for thousands of years?. Hence, reservation! Yet, few Hindus argued that for seven hundred years of Muslim rule, the entire Hindu society was denied any opportunity, and if any Hindu managed to seize power, he was outside the twice born castes. In Turk, Mughal or Bahamani army and administration, there was monopoly of foreign born Muslim immigrants. Who shall account for this seven centuries, if anybody at all ?
For a new Hindu polity to emerge, it must be backed up by a meticulous institutional research on Hindu history. If Itihasa is a Hindu scripture, let us make Hindu history as our new scripture, as it was to Veer Savarkar.
(The writer can be contacted at e-mail [email protected])