IT is said that Indians have no history. This is only partly true. India’s vast literature of legends, mythologies and epics-they form the storehouse of our history. These are nor fairy tales.
Of course, exceptions are there. For example, we have Harsha Charita by Bana Bhatta and Rajatarangini by Kalhana. But the question before us is: Can we ever have a true history? No, is my answer. Why? Because it was largely written by foreign historians, first by Muslims and then by the British.
India’s ancient history is made up of the writings of Greeks and Chinese. The Greeks and the Chinese wrote what they saw. They had no interest in fabricating stories. But the Muslim and Christian historians had every reason to distort the Indian reality. For example, Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty (not exactly a historian) writes in his Babur Nama that he saw nothing good in this country. Exceptions are of course, there. For example, al-Biruni, an Iranian and Sanskrit scholar, saw India entirely differently. He was full of praise for things Indian. He speaks in wonder of the irrigation system in South India. The Arabs used to think highly of India. Thus, Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet of Islam, is reputed to have said that India was the land of wisdom. He was not alone in the praising of India. In the 9th c AD Sulaiman Tafar of Iraq wrote in his Safarnama how tolerant a Hindu King of Gujarat was to Muslims. In the 10th c AD Al-Idvisi observes that Hindus tended to be just. In his Ajaib-al-Hind (Miracles of India) Buzurg bin Sahryar, an Iranian, dwelt on Hindu tolerance to Muslims and Islam. Al-Biruni dominated the writers on India. But he had little to say against India. In fact, he spoke of a wonderful India.
The Muslim court historians have left a vast literature in Persian on the life and rule of Muslim rulers. But they are nothing but hagiographies, with little use for the true historians. Unfortunately, Indian historians, adept in Persian, have made use of these source materials unwittingly.
As for British historians, we have both the imperialists and also those who were circumspect. But we must be careful with what they wrote.
The Hindus and the minorities of India have always something to say against what is written. They want Indian history to be written their way. This has led to endless conflicts. The objections have come largely from Muslims. Obviously, they do not want the atrocities of the Muslim rulers to be recorded for posterity. The Christians, on their part, are mainly interested in protecting Christianity from its scandalous history of atrocities. For example, the decimation of the civilisations of Latin America and the incineration of six million Jews. It is men who call themselves Christians who have done these things!
Be that as it may, Muslim and Christian historians are trying to prettify their history. Naturally, Hindus object to such activities. They want the truth to be told.
Here is an example of prettification. Prof. Irfan Habib tells us that the Turks “liberated” the lower castes from the tyranny of the upper castes. According to him, it is not the superior weapons of the Turks which helped them to defeat the Rajputs, but the caste system. The lower castes, he says, joined forces with the Turkish forces. Face to face, with the social and economic provisions of the Shariah and the Hindu smritis, he says, the Shariah appealed to the lower castes. All these from the foremost Muslim historian of India. Surely, the Hindus cannot accept such interpretations.
According to al-Biruni, the Vaisyas and Shudras lived together in towns and villages, more so after the advent of Jainism and Buddhism, which did not have the caste system.
The history of India during the Muslim period was largely chronicled by Persian historians. They thought of themselves as superior to Hindus. They also thought that a Muslim (ruler or layman) could do no wrong. This was a fundamental belief in them. Naturally, a Muslim ruler who could do no wrong deserved praise.
Most of the medieval Muslim chroniclers were foreigners. When an Indian Muslim convert asserted his view or questioned the dominance of foreign Muslims, he was treated as a non-Muslim by these foreign writers and all his actions were considered as heresy and infidelity. A Muslim owed his first loyalty of his religion, they said. Hence all his actions should be aimed at the glorification of the religion-Islam. They even raised drunkards and debauches, who were a disgrace to Islam and humanity, to great eminence all because they were Muslims. It is, therefore, necessary to have a close scrutiny of the history written by Iranian historians.
The first generation of “Indian” historians were British. They did not know Persian, but they made use of Persian history of India to denigrate India.
In Iran and India through the Ages, Feroze Cowasjee Davar says: “There began an intellectual association between India and Iran which in the coming passion for learning…has no parallel in the history of culture.” But, alas, there is no parallel to what the Iranians did to distort the history of India.