Of Fusion of Faith and History

Of Fusion of Faith and History

 

Partha Desikan

 

The well known historian Romila Thapar has addressed the above subject in an article given prominence in today’s issue of ‘The Hindu’. We are promised an expanded version in tomorrow’s Economic and Political Weekly.

 

Thapar’s finishing lines, which do not have to do with her historical expertise, are likely to find favour with all educated and right thinking Indians. She wants the authorities concerned with the Sethusamudram project to find out with diligence, the possible ecological damage to the region by disturbing the ancient undersea formation, which a number of Indians call Ramasethu. She wants them to be transparent about economic benefits to India by going ahead with the project, the cost to benefit ratio and the way the moneys allotted will be spent. I do not question her on any of these. I have, however, a few comments about some historic and geographic bits of information in her article and wish to state right in the beginning that I am not a historian or an expert in geography, of any size or colour.

 

1. I am not surprised that biographical information about Buddha, Mahavira, Mohammad, Nanak and Christ happens to be relatively consistent, though some very modern research may be throwing up new information on the lives of some of these. These people happened to live at times when writing of sorts had developed well in the relevant languages at or near the areas of their birth. I contend that out of the two heroes of Hindu faith, Krishna alone must have lived when writing was already very prevalent. (There are itihasic/puranic references to letters sent by Rukmini to Krishna and by Damayanti to Nala.) Valmiki Ramayana must definitely have been rewritten along with Mahabharata approximately during the Gupta period and/or later, but the rewriters have forgotten to replace laborious recitations of messages by messengers, by convenient letters handed on. Some ancient form of Sanskrit was probably used along with other symbols for engraving purposes, as there is reference to Rama’s name being engraved on his ring sent to Sita in her Lankan prison, or again the rewriters could have thought this up. The nuclear events of the Rama story must have happened very much before Buddha’s time and even much before Krishna’s time. Along with Vedic knowledge, they must also have been passed on by rigorous karnaparampara, mouth to ear transmission, very diligently, picking up inevitable extraneous strands all the time. And thanks to the very special qualities of the hero of the story, several gifted writers over the ages must have felt like writing their versions of the story, when it was passed on to them.

 

2. ‘Modern’ and ‘scientific’ persons cannot understand the phenomenon of very ancient happenings and other aspects of truth being revealed to some enlightened minds over the ages with natural consequences of garbled reception and further transmission. Therefore I will not write on this aspect, except to state that even if the Ramayana period was so old that no archaeological evidence can be traced in Ayodhya or elsewhere, it still does not preclude some kind of information of the period being part of gene memories and being revived during more recent past.

 

3. The Buddha version and the Jaina version of Ramayana had every reason to be the way they are.

 

4. The name Sinhala was acquired by the island nation obviously after a mass exodus of Oriyan origin Indians there following Simhavishnu. The name Tamraparni belongs to a river in the Pandyan region of Tamilnadu, since the times of the oldest writings in Sanskrit and Tamil, and not to the island south of the Pandya land.  Of course Asoka would have mentioned the presence of Tamraparni directly south of his empire, as his empire did not extend to the southernmost part of the peninsula.

 

Let me scrupulously avoid any reference to matters related to faith, as Thapar believes she has done.

 

 

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