No study has so potential an influence in forming the character and outlook of a nation as a critical and careful study of the past history, says RC Dutt, the famous historian.
And yet generations of Hindus have grown up in this land in ignorance of their past! How is one to explain this paradox? It calls for a long story. But I prefer to believe that it has to do with the outlook of the people-whether they were preoccupied with life or with death.
The Aryans were preoccupied with life. They enjoyed life. But they came to be preoccupied with death. That is when they neglected their life and its supports. Similarly, when the Egyptians were fond of life, they built the great Nile Valley irrigation system. But when they came to be preoccupied with death, they built the great pyramids to preserve the dead.
We have often asked: How did Hindus, the most advanced segment of the humanity, come under the barbarians? And how is it that we remained as slaves for as long as a thousand years! It is because we did not have a clear idea of the purpose of life. We not only neglected life but also the state and the welfare of the people. Instead, we built an enormous system of speculation to promote our salvation, with a priesthood which ultimately took over the regulation of our life on earth.
Have we overcome this curse? No. we have not. Perhaps we cannot. Unless we know the purpose of our life on earth, we cannot know the need for a strong state. And we can know this purpose only by a careful study of our history. But we are indifferent to our history -that is, to our life. Our attention was wholly directed to our salvation. No wonder, the Hindus were obsessed with religion and philosophy!
How did the barbarians invade India? What were the reforms of Ashoka? These questions were not important to the Hindus. They did not remember the invasion of Alexander or the rule and reforms of Ashoka, the greatest emperor in human history. And because the Hindu could not recall his past, he did not know how to shape his present and future.
Thus, a “critical and careful study” of history, which alone could have influenced the growth of the Hindus outlook and character, as RC Dutt says, was not possible for the Hindus. Nor was such a study of history possible when the minorities were trying to justify their existence in India by distorting history. Are we thus condemned to live with our distorted history without knowing the true facts? Can we expect the minorities to change their outlook when they had already rejected India’s heritage? Only time can tell.
We were not only indifferent to our history, but also to the need for a powerful state and the security of our people. We were also indifferent to how we were ruled, who ruled over us and what goal the state had set. The Hindus, therefore, paid a heavy price. They lost their freedom for a thousand years!
What about the experience of other nations and peoples? The Greeks were the nearest to us in every way. But with a major difference: they were preoccupied with life, not with death. Which is why they created the greatest life support system known to men.
It is true the Greeks neglected their history. They hardly remembered their past. But they were serious about life. And think of it-they were the pioneers in the writing of history in a scientific manner! And this explains why Herodotus is considered the Father of History.
There is no doubt the Hindus influenced the Greeks. The Stoics had a doctrine called “World Periods”. They believed that after aeons of time, the world collapsed and a new one took its place. The power of reasoning, not faith, was almost divine to the Greeks.
Like the Hindus, the Greeks turned to philosophy to know the work, although philosophy took no account of history.
The Jews are a people supremely conscious of their history. Of the events to their past, they remember most their bondage in Egypt and how their god, Yahweh, rescued them and brought them to Israel a land flowing with milk and honey. This story runs through the entire Old Testament. And they remember their exile in Persia and Babylone. It is this terrible experience which shaped their outlook and character. More need be said of the Jews.
Man was the centre of Chinese attention, not God. They cared for life, not death. They worshipped their ancestors and their state. The historian was among the highest dignitaries of the Chinese state. They recorded the history of China and the Emperor consulted history before taking any action. “Shooking” (Book of History) went back to thousands of years. Like the Hindus, they believed time to be cyclical. Su ma Ch’ien, the greatest Chinese historian, says that history moves forward by the constant discovery of the errors of each dynasty.
The early Christians believed that the end of the world was imminent and that the main task before them was to save the souls, not to ponder over the past or the future. As the end did not take place, the Christians took to Messianism. As Messianism failed, the Christian world has taken to materialism.
The past does not exist for the Muslims. History was secondary to them. It is Allah who shapes the history of the Muslims. Muslims have made no contribution to historiography. But Ibn Khaldun, the greatest Muslim historian, founded the concept of “World History”. He gave importance to cultural awareness.