Wednesday October 24, 2018

DU seminar: Decoding the Vedic chronology

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By Nithin Sridhar

Starting today, Sanskrit department of the Delhi University will be hosting a 3-day national seminar on the topic “Vedic Chronology: A reassessment”that ends on September 28. Various scholars will be presenting and analyzing the timeline of various Vedic literatures including Rigveda.

Credit: www.ibnlive.com
Credit: www.ibnlive.com

The subjects on which the scholars will be delivering presentations include dating of Yaska, Dharmasutras, Pingala, Atharvaveda, Rigveda, Taittiriya Aranyaka, Pantanjali, Upanishads, Vedanga Jyotishya, Natyashastra and others. The conference is being organized in collaboration with the Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan.

According to Ramesh C Bhardwaj, Professor and Head of the Sanskrit department, the astronomical evidences available within the Vedas point towards Rigveda being not later than 5000 BC. The mainstream academics in India and the West has maintained a date of around 1500-1200 BC for the composition of the Rigveda. This is consistent with their dating of Aryan migration into India around 1700-1500 BC. But, during last few decades many scholars have pointed serious issues with this current dating. In this context, the present conference assumes great significance.

Aryan Migration and the dating of Rigveda

The mainstream history traces the Vedic Sanskrit to a family of languages called ‘Indo-European’ because many European languages including English share many common linguistic features with Sanskrit. These speakers of Indo-European language have been termed as ‘Aryan people’. During the colonial times, when this theory was put forward, the Aryan term was given a racial meaning as well.

Many mainstream historians and linguists even today propagate that Aryans migrated into India around 1700-1500 BCfrom Pontic steppes and composed the Rigveda between 1500-1200 BC. Colonial scholars held that Aryans invaded India and destroyed the Indus civilization and drove them into South India. Hence, according to colonial Aryan Invasion theory (AIT), Indus Valley people were Dravidians.

In the last few decades, this invasion theory has been replaced with Aryan migration (AMT), wherein Aryan people migrated into India and with them brought their language and culture into India. It is in this context that the dating of Vedas and other Hindu scriptures have been done. The mainstream academia holds that Aryans were after the time of the Indus Civilization and hence Rigveda must have been composed after its decline.

Oppositions to Aryan Migration theory

During the last few decades, this hypothesis of an ‘Aryan Invasion/Migration’ has been questioned by many archaeologists, linguists, and Indologists. The discovery of the dry bed of Gagghar-Hakra valley that fits the description of the river Saraswati in Rigveda has strengthened the claims of those who question AIT/AMT.

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Geologists have established that the Saraswati was flowing in full flow not later than 3200 BC and dried up around 1900 BC. Hence, Rigveda that speaks about Saraswati as flowing in full splendor could have only been composed around 3200 BC or before.

Similarly, many archeologists have pointed out that no material evidence is available to attest Aryan migration into India. Some scholars have already used astronomical evidences to date Mahabharata to around 3,000 BC that puts Rigveda much earlier.

 

Aryan theory and the Indian identity

The Aryan controversy is going on for around two centuries. It was composed in a colonial atmosphere as a racial theory and was used as a tool to justify the British occupation of India and the White Man’s Burden.

After Independence, AIT/AMT has been used within Indian politics to create much bad blood between north Indians and south Indians and between the upper and the lower castes. The theory has been used to uproot Indian identity from its cultural roots. By arguing that Aryans brought their language and culture from outside India, the very soul, the essence of Indian identity has been questioned for two centuries.

Another corollary is that the Hindu culture and religion (Sanatana Dharma) is an alien culture that was imposed on the Indian population. Indian textbooks largely continue to teach various shades of these AIT/AMT to people without including the serious issues that have been pointed out in the theory. In this context, the present seminar holds great significance.

This may be the beginning of a genuine and wider reassessment of Aryan question and the question of Indian identity. It may act as a foundation on which a genuine history of India may be written in the coming future.

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Know Your India: How Well Do You Know Hindu Wisdom?

Our rich past must remain our greatest inspiration and inform our engagement with the world

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Hindu wisdom and the broader framework of Eastern philosophy talked in the same language as modern physics was beginning to do. Wikimedia Commons
Hindu wisdom and the broader framework of Eastern philosophy talked in the same language as modern physics was beginning to do. Wikimedia Commons

By Bikash Sarmah

No matter how our self-styled secularists vilify ancient Indian or Hindu wisdom, there is an element of eternity and universality about that treasure trove. It is a great work of reason and analysis. And there is no confusion in the discourse. Such is its universality that the intelligent Westerner woke up to it long ago and discovered the wealth therein. Such is its practicality that when Albert Einstein deconstructed the long-held Newtonian worldview in the early part of the 20th century, and when quantum mechanics from the other side revolutionized the whole course of physics and brought about a paradigm shift in our perception of matter and energy, the founding fathers of the evolving field had already taken resort in Hindu wisdom, and to their utter surprise found that Hindu wisdom and the broader framework of Eastern philosophy talked in the same language as modern physics was beginning to do. And it was not restricted to physics or mathematics alone. Even Western writers and philosophers began to appreciate Hindu wisdom, but not without struggling to comprehend the non-Newtonian Hindu worldview — used as they were to a discrete, Newtonian notion of fundamentalism, both in the material and non-material world.

As an acclaimed physicist and thinker Fritjof Capra says in his classic The Tao of Physics, ‘‘The picture of an interconnected cosmic web which emerges from modern atomic physics has been used extensively in the East to convey the mystical experience of nature. For the Hindus, Brahman is the unifying thread in the cosmic web, the ultimate ground of all being… In Buddhism, the image of the cosmic web plays an even greater role. The core of the Avatamsaka Sutra, one of the main scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, is the description of the world as a perfect network of mutual relations where all things and events interact with each other in an infinitely complicated way.’’

In Buddhism, the image of the cosmic web plays an even greater role. The core of the Avatamsaka Sutra, one of the main scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, is the description of the world as a perfect network of mutual relations where all things and events interact with each other in an infinitely complicated way.’’ Says Fritjof Capra. Wikimedia Commons
In Buddhism, the image of the cosmic web plays an even greater role. The core of the Avatamsaka Sutra, one of the main scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, is the description of the world as a perfect network of mutual relations where all things and events interact with each other in an infinitely complicated way.’’ Says Fritjof Capra. Wikimedia Commons

ALSO READ: Future of Hinduism in US: An Analysis

Such worldview brings a lot of discomfort to the typical Western mind brought up in a culture that emphasizes only rigid fundamentals and overlooks the varied possibilities beyond the confinement of fundamentals, unlike in the Hindu system that rejects such fundamentalism and espouses a notion of the world, both material and spiritual, that jells wonderfully with the implications of the theories of modern physics. But how well is this known? It is in this context that a compilation of Western thoughts on India and its ancient wisdom, titled ‘Great minds on India’ compiled by Salil Gewali and published by Academic Publications, Shillong, is pertinent. It captures the best of comments by Western intellectual giants on Hindu wisdom and its timelessness, reflecting also on the parallels between modern physics and Hindu wisdom. Let us hear some of them. Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum mechanics and celebrated for his epoch-making Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics that rejects the Newtonian assertion of predicting the position and momentum of matter simultaneously, glorifies Hindu wisdom thus:

‘‘After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of quantum physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense.’’ If Einstein says that ‘‘we owe a lot to Indians who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could be made’’, Julius R Oppenheimer, the father of nuclear bomb, goes further: ‘‘What we shall find in modern physics is an exemplification, an encouragement and a refinement of old Hindu wisdom.’’

‘‘Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys.’’ Says TS Eliot. Wikimedia Commons
‘‘Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys.’’ Says TS Eliot. Wikimedia Commons

Coming to TS Eliot, who needs no introduction. He says: ‘‘Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys.’’ What Eliot means, in other words, is that when it comes to subtlety — that is, to the delicate refinement of ideas — most of the great European philosophers should rather be huddled in a classroom with an Indian philosopher teaching and guiding them. That is why Francois M Voltaire, one of the greatest French writers and philosophers, admits thus: ‘‘I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganga — astronomy, astrology, spiritualism etc. It is very important to note that some 2,500 years ago at the least Pythagoras went from Samos to the Ganga to learn geometry… But he would certainly not have undertaken such a strange journey had the reputation of the Brahmins’ science not been long established in Europe.’’ And that is why Ralph Waldo Emerson, great American author, and essayist, confesses to having been ‘‘haunted’’ by the Vedas. ‘‘In them (the Vedas),’’ Emerson says, ‘‘I have found eternal compensation, unfathomable power, unbroken peace.’’ And hence the candor, again, of Arthur Schopenhauer, one of the greatest German philosophers and writers: ‘‘In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. It has been the solace of my life, and it will be the solace of my death. They are the product of the highest wisdom.’’

ALSO READ: Hindu Americans are role models for Hindus in India: Dr. David Frawley

Perhaps the best eulogy for India, as it truly deserves, has come from Frederich von Schlegel, acclaimed German writer, critic, philosopher, and one of the founders of German Romanticism: ‘‘There is no language in the world, even Greek, which has the clarity and the philosophical precision of Sanskrit, and this great India is not only at the origin of everything, she is (also) superior in everything, intellectually, religiously or politically, and even the Greek heritage seems pale in comparison.’’

The booklet, ‘Eat minds on India’, is doubtless a unique venture, and the publishers deserve kudos for having accomplished such an onerous task as to compile comments on India and Hindu wisdom by a galaxy of Western intellectual giants and then to choose the best and the most relevant ones. The tragedy, however, remains: a pseudo-secular dispensation as we are blessed with at the Centre would hardly initiate any move to popularize ancient Indian wisdom, which is essentially Hindu, and call upon the youth of the country to rediscover their past and marvel at the sheer effulgence of Hindu wisdom — stemming not from any dogmatic, fundamentalist and conditioned worldview, but from a holistic way of life and its liberating experience. This is so because the word ‘‘Hindu’’ will invariably echo in any discourse on ancient Indian wisdom and the country’s perverse, self-styled secularists will discover a ‘communal’ agenda there — ‘against our pluralist ethos’. These poor souls do not realize — nor do they want to — that whatever pluralist ethos the country today takes pride in and will sustain for all times is due solely to the Hindu way of life, a preponderant way of life in India. Why, look at how the other by-product of Partition, including Bangladesh, has evolved.

Our rich past must remain our greatest inspiration and inform our engagement with the world. Even quantum mechanics and all of its later avatars recognize that fact of life. Let us all be proud of it all.

(The writer is the former consultant Editor of ‘The Sentinel’, a Guwahati-based
daily. He currently resides in Guwahati)