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October 26, 2005

Meaning and Identity from History

Found this very nice post about Indian history: Revisioning Indian history.

Apart from the good material in the post, there are some very informative comments as well.

Some comments from Sanjay caught my attention -- he gave links to the Gulf of Canbay excavation, which says it was dated to around 7500BC, and a video link which reportedly points out that all non-African people have origins in South-East Asia, based on Oxford DNA study.

But I dont agree with his insights in his last comment. I am pasting his comment below for sake of preservation. And I added another comment on that page, which also I am pasting beneath his comment below, for archiving.

Recently, several intellectuals have made the point that an obsession with history (more specifically, an historical narrative) is primarily a Western phenomenon. For the european, a historical grand narrative that stood unbroken & unchallenged was a marker of the current power equation (winner take all including the writing of history), an alpha-male type display. Any challenge to it was to be fiercely resisted because it represented an actual or potential erosion of power.

Others have noted with irony the sight of Indians clawing & fighting about historical narratives & have concluded that it demonstrates the extent to which both the indian Left & the Right remain mentally colonized to this day.

Note the recent furore over the movie Mangal Pandey (which went all the way to L.S.) & the potential of conflicting historical narratives to lead to actual street conflict.

There is yet a third group of intellectuals who are re-examining the reaction of europeans upon their first encounter with Indian history. European scholars were aghast "Indians have no history, nor a concrete sense of history", they sniffed. Without history, you're "pre-historic' & "backward", they claimed.

This judgement made some of our babus very ashamed & they worked up significant amounts of sweat as they went about the task of trying to prove the white folks wrong. Very few indians, including gandhiji btw, reflected deeply about why Indians were ahistorical & chose NOT to write grand historical narratives.

To understand gandhi's support for ahistoricity, lets consider an historically attested event such as the holocaust. There are two historical narratives one could construct around this event:

1. The holocaust must never happen to the JEWISH people again
2. The holocaust must never happen to ANY people again

Method #1 leads to a narrative which freezes Jews as perpetual victims; nazis/ germans as perpetual evil doers. Even in 2042, kids will be taught what the germans did to the jews 100 yrs ago. Once community becomes evil forever vs. the other.

Method #2 recognizes that good & evil resides within each of us, it is not "us vs them", no one is perpetually good, nor perpetually evil. There is no point in perpetually demonizing one single community at the expense of another. Therefore, it leads to a historical paradigm where real names of people & communities are erased. Yet, there is also the imperative of recognizing that evil did happen & that we do need to learn from history. So, you mythologize the names - the good guys become the pandavas; the bad guys become the kauravas. You erase the historical tracks, yet you preserve the learning from history.

#2 leads to the ahistorical paradigm which our ancestors must have thought was correct for India.

In my view, if Secular-Right India is seeking a position on Indian history, then it is more authentically Indian, more principled, more defensible, more sensible, more evolved to choose the ahistorical position than to get mired in Left vs Right debates. There are far more important things to do.


My comment:

This is with reference to the above post by Sanjay.

Sanjay, I think that sometimes #1 is also important.

History, apart from lessons, also provides the very very important sense of "meaning" and "identity". The meaning and identity part of history does not come out if you dont have more particulars about the event (like a narrative, timing details, who-who, etc).

For example, lets imagine a situation similar to the movie "Memento" -- lets say he keeps forgetting what happenned in his past, but still he manages to keep lessons he learns by writing it onto pieces of papers in his pocket. Now, at any given time, he will have all the lessons he learnt in his life, but he wont know what to do now, and why. He wont know who he is, and what is his meaning and purpose.

Knowing lessons means he will know the rules of the game, but he will have no clue as regards to the game's objective.

September 8, 2005

more links to history of Indian science/math/astronomy/other developments

An edited copy of a mail I recently sent -- sorry for bias for India -- it was counter to the anti-Indian and pro-Western bias of the receipient.

--- wrote:

> i repeat: some (all) indians still lack the *conscious* ability of
> self-critique, self-improvement by negative feedback, intellectual thought
> etc they are always bathing in the drug-like effects of positive feedback
> and self-aggrandizing and surrouinding oneself with praising people, which
> would have been ok, if not for the animal like existence it entails with
> total lack of improvement over the long term, maybe deterioration
> too.stillit is king mentality i am great. like an old film star who
> still thinks
> he/she is a star but actually is ignored.
> some uniconscious intelligence (though negligible in long term) is there in
> small amouts so they move to foreign countries, realizing futility of stay
> in india be it with their suffering parents who call them back who are
> ignored to be left to die "alone" in India or come to US.

You should immediately remove the term "intellectual thought" from your first sentence. For example, how were we able to develop into the leading country in all intellectual domains until the western enlightenment in the 17th century?

You should read this:

Basically, we have always been centuries ahead of the west in maths, astronomy, spirituality, psychology, and possibly most of the intellectual domains; until the 17th century, of course.

If the culture is severely flawed and cannot even self-critique (which is the basic attribute of intelligence), how could it have developed all this so early, _centuries_ and _millenia_ before anybody else?

You are only looking at the current Indian culture, which has flaws, due to what I feel are the effects of population, and other geographical factors, and the flawed merge between the West and the Indian cultures.

And also, you are not looking at the best of Indian culture -- you are looking at problems, you are missing the merits: your western psychological training has trained you to look at the mind as a machination, with a tendency to get flawed. But because of this, you are unable to see the positive sides of the mind. You get egoistic pleasure in believing and telling that most people are essentially flawed. Once egoistic pleasure comes in the middle, you cannot think straight. (Same applies to me).

The Western psychologists have only recently started to look at positive psychology. The American Psych Assoc (APA)'s president Seligman realized around 2000 that something very significant was amiss in western psychology, and started a conference/field of positive psychology, where they try to understand and promote human happiness instead of the traditional way to reduce unhappiness.

A must-read:

Now I believe that the Western Psychology will understand happiness and positive emotions better; and they will come up with something similar to spirituality -- present in the Indian religion/culture/philosophy since millenia.

My subjective feeling that: Put India on an isolated island, and you will see they would emerge with true happiness (not that they will be remain in happy state completely, but they will reach a sustaining cultural state, which would support fulfillment of the conscious mind's ultimate desires of meaning and belonging).

August 19, 2005

Ancient Indian History: So mysterious

A mail sent to some Indian friends (was reading a little about Indian philosophy the past few days)


I found an interesting article on Ancient Indian History; it is long, but consists of lots of references to various books, events, and books, indicating that it has some substance. However, according to the organized world, this essay will fall into the category of indian religious fanatics' opinions, considering the hugeness of the dates. I searched some other articles of Prasad Gokhale on, and he seems to have studied Indian history a LOT. He is presumably a PhD in Mech.

(This is a local copy of the article)

Since I know that most of you wont be reading the article, here is the chronology he develops:

Swayambhuva Manu 29,000 B.C.
Veda (early stages) 23,720 B.C.
Samhita (Taitiriya) 22,000 B.C.
Manu Chakshushu 17,500 B.C.
King Pruthu 16,050 B.C.
Manu Vaivasvata 14,000 B.C.
Indra-Skanda dialogue (Mahabharat) 13,000 B.C.
Glaciation period 8,000 B.C.
Dasharadnya War 7,000 B.C.
Ramayana 5,500 B.C.
Orion period 4,000 B.C.
Greeks separate 4,000 B.C.
Rajatarangini begins 3,450 B.C.
Gonanda-I of Kashmir 3,238 B.C.
Mahabharata 3,138 B.C.
Veda (last stages) 3,100 B.C.
Saptarsi era begins 3,076 B.C.
Saraswati-Sindhu Culture 3,000 B.C.
Gautam Siddharta born 1,887 B.C.
Gautam Siddharta Nirvana 1,807 B.C.
Mahaveer Jain born 1,862 B.C.
Chandragupta Maurya 1,534 B.C.
Ashoka Maurya 1,482 B.C.
Ashoka Gonanda 1,448 B.C.
Kanishka 1,294 B.C.
Kumarila Bhatta 557 B.C.
Vruddha Garga 550 B.C.
Aadi Shankaracharya born 509 B.C.
Harsha Vikramaditya 457 B.C.
Shatkarani Gautamiputra 433 B.C.
Chandragupta Gupta 327 B.C.
Shakari Vikramaditya 57 B.C.
Shalivahan 78 A.D.
Huen-Tsang 625 A.D.
Kalhana (Kashmiri historian) 1,148 A.D

About Aryan Invasion Theory, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article:

This has only concrete evidences (although this is only upto 3000 BC).

My personal opinion on reading some articles on the web is that there was no Aryan Invasion; I think we have been here a long time; our scriptures show evidences of being here a long time. We and dravidians are mostly of the same heritage, only they forked out sometime from the Vedic people via Sage Agastya. Harappa civilization was part of Vedic civilization; We dont show enough aggressiveness for me to believe that we were Britishers of the 2nd BCE millenium, invading terretories.

Secondly, some of our scriptures show highly developed mental maturity. In fact, even Egyptians making that Great Pyramid in 2600BC show great mental maturity. This all goes to show that we, as humans, havent developed in mental capacity as much we tend to think; its only cumulative knowledge growth that we are standing upon.

Thirdly, the ancient past of India, as little as we know of it, feels very mysterious and exciting. What were they doing thousands of years ago --- riting scriptures which document the motions of stars, planets, sun and moon to such accuracy; creating social rituals, festivals for social life, trying to fill the mundane life with meaning such that even we today are dependent on their meaning-generating principles; writing stories which require great imagination and social presence; creating religion, which demonstrate extraordinary emotional development of the mind; generating thoughts of the highest philosophical calibre (even contemporary thoughts on meaning of life matches so much to, say, this hymn 10.129 from the RigVeda, written anywhere between 2000BC-20000BC:

Non-being then existed not nor being:
There was no air, nor sky that is beyond it.
What was concealed? Wherein? In whose protection?
And was there deep unfathomable water?

Death then existed not nor life immortal;
Of neither night nor day was any token.
By its inherent force the One breathed windless:
No other thing than that beyond existed.

Darkness there was at first by darkness hidden;
Without distinctive marks, this all was water.
That which, becoming, by the void was covered,
That One by force of heat came into being.

Desire entered the One in the beginning:
It was the earliest seed, of thought the product.
The sages searching in their hearts with wisdom,
Found out the bond of being in non-being.

Their ray extended light across the darkness:
But was the One above or was it under?
Creative force was there, and fertile power:
Below was energy, above was impulse.

Who knows for certain? Who shall here declare it?
Whence was it born, and whence came this creation?
The gods were born after this world's creation:
Then who can konw from whence it has arisen?

None knoweth whence creation has arisen;
And whether he has or has not produced it:
He who surveys it in the highest heaven,
He only knows, or haply he may know not.

); developing building capacity so much as to be able to make the pyramids; etc etc etc etc etc etc

Even though the conditions to live that time were so difficult and our "power" so low, that entire civilizations could get wiped out just because a river dried (like the Harappa civilization got wiped out around 3000BC when the Saraswati River dried, they speculate); the human spirit got us through to where we are!

Why does the past always look so beautiful and fascinating?


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