Friday, September 28, 2007

Romila Thapar’s Double standards and Half Truths

This is with reference to Prof. Romila Thapar’s article ‘Where fusion cannot work — faith and history’ (The Hindu, 28-Sep-2007).

While every scholar is entitled to his or her own views on the historicity of Sri Rama it comes as a shock to see a scholar of Prof. Thapar’s repute set double standards for Indic Divinities, as against those from other traditions - particularly non-Indic and/or Abrahamic. For example, she states that in the case of Sri Rama, the variant versions of the story is, in itself, not evidence of historicity and that if the variants contradict each other as they do, this may create problems for those who believe that only one of the variants is true.

In the case of Jesus narrative variants have been ruthlessly suppressed. Now scholars are discovering ancient narratives which contradict synoptic Gospels at every major point – like the family life of Jesus, role of Magdalene, the supposed betrayal of Judas etc.
Even the accepted Synoptic Gospels present invented genealogies of Jesus (which have no common names for 14 generations) because the authors wanted Jesus to be hereditarily linked to David To crown it all no external sources have been discovered to date outside the body of Gospel literature (both Gnostic and Synoptic) to ascertain the historicity of Jesus. Even Dead Sea scrolls are silent on Jesus.
Also unlike in the case of Sri Rama where His actions turned out to be trend setting examples in the mythological and devotional literature of South Asia, every supernatural act ascribed to Jesus in Gospels had their precursor in the past mythological Divines. From turning water to wine (Dinoysius) to his resurrection from the death (Tammuz), Jesus had mythological ancestors popular in Judaeo-Roman-Hellenistic traditions.
Yet our learned professor has no problem in declaring the historicity of Jesus whom she also qualifies as Christ – the Anointed one – a Christian claim based on what many Hebrew scholars consider as misinterpretation of verses from Jewish scripture.

Coming back to the claims on the historicity of Ramayana, most historians who have no ideological vested interests accept the historical kernel of Ramayana. They may differ and debate on the details. Thus Dr.B.B.Lal the eminent archaeologist who excavated the Ramayana sites concludes that Ramayana is not a figment of imagination but based on historical events which were popular in the memory of the people which Valmiki composed into an epic narrative. Dr.B.B.Lal dates Ramayana events to 700 BCE. The unfortunate tendency of certain historians who put ideological vested interests over objective scholarship resulting in suppressing the conclusions arrived at by Dr.B.B.Lal after the Ramayana project, being presented in the ICHR meeting of 1988 has been explained by the eminent archaeologist in the very pages of ‘The Hindu’ itself (‘Facts of history cannot be altered’, July 1 1988).

Hence when ASI stated that Ramayana has no historical basis it was simply indulging in ‘suppressio veri suggestio falsi’ game.

That Ramayana in its general outline known today, was also known to people of India even prior to Sage Valmiki, is well attested by varied literary evidence from across the nation. particularly from the South. Like for example from ancient Tamil Sangham literature which mentions an event related to Rama that goes unmentioned in Valmiki wherein Sri Rama plans the military strategy under a banyan tree in Rameshwaram and the birds whose sounds disturb the meeting fall silent as Sri Rama commands them to be quiet (Aham: 70:15).

The mention of Rama here makes it clear that the lore of Sri Rama coming to the south and winning in the battle against the demon of Lanka is not something that originated in the North and later spread over to the South but that was as strong in the south Indian tradition as it was in north India even during the period historians usually attribute to Sage Valmiki Ramayana, that is around 200 BCE.

This is also roughly the time attributed to Sangham literature. In fact the Sangham mention of Sri Rama also hints at Rama’s divinity as his words not only had a supernatural effect on the birds but also the lines speak of his words as being scriptural in nature (‘Aru Marai’'வெல்போர் இராமன் அருமறை').

Even stranger is the claims that Prof.Thapar makes about the Buddhist Jataka variant of Ramayana that it does not mention the abduction of Sita or Sri Rama’s war with the demons. Historian Himansu Bhusan Sarkar explains this particular aspect of the Jataka tale variant of Ramayana thus:
“The non-mention of southern topics does not, of course, prove anything., as the Jataka-stories were framed only with limited objectives and had no compulsive motive to narrate the whole story but by the third century AD the story had assumed its present features, because, in a Chinese collection of some Jataka stories which were translated by a Sogdiana monk between AD 222 and 280, the episodes of Rama’s exile , the abduction of Sita by Ravana, the duel of the latter with Jatayu, of Sugriva and Vali, the construction of a bridge to Lanka, the ordeal of Sita have been drawn in outline.” (pp 103-104, The Ramayana traditions in Asia, Sahitya Akademi 1989)

Equally amusing is her claim about Jain Ramayana ‘variants’ as she calls them. From Puama-cariya of Vimala-Suri (end of 3rd century CE) to Rama Charitha of Devavijaya-ganin (1596 CE) one finds the theme of Rama-Ravana battle in Jain Ramayans. Also Prof. Thapar claims in her article that in the Jain version ‘Ravana is not a demonic villain but a human counter-hero’ But in Puama-cariya considered the earliest Jain version of Ramayan, Ravana is mentioned as leader of demons (PC: 3:9) More relevant to the issue in hand, the Jain Ramayan specifically mentions the Vanaras building a bridge to Sri Lanka. (PC: 3 v.12)

Another great Jain monk who hails from the southernmost part of India, Saint Illango in his immortal Tamil epic ‘Chilapathikaram’ (usually dated as 200-300 CE) compares the leaving of his epic hero Kovalan of his hometown to Sri Rama leaving Ayodhya.

And in the epic he mentions how Tamil shepherds were singing and dancing the praise of Sri Rama destroying the demons of ancient Lanka and in through their song the Jain monk praises Sri Rama as the incarnation of Maha Vishnu and laments that the ears that hear not His praise exist in vain.

Clearly by 200 CE if not before, Sri Rama going to Lanka and killing the demons there and veneration of Sri Rama as the avatar of Vishnu have all become part of the Tamil devotional tradition and day to day culture.

There is also the strong possibility that many popular devotional aspects of Rama tradition –like the squirrel helping the Sethu Bandhan which finds first literary mention in Thirumalai: 27 - that are found throughout India may have originated and spread from South India itself.

Clearly it is not only ASI which has been playing the ‘suppressio veri suggestio falsi’ game.

That said one cannot but agree with Prof. Thapar when she states that a search for a non-existent man-made structure takes away from the imaginative leap of a fantasy and denies the fascinating layering of folk-lore. While rejecting the literalists, one is at a loss to understand why Prof. Romila Thapar fails to see the cultural dimension of the natural formation that inspired the imaginative leap of not just fantasy but also devotional literature of a nation and the fascinating layering of the same by folk-lore and transforming it into one of the centres of national integration as acknowledged by none other than Mahatma Gandhi in his ‘Hind Swaraj’. In India, the whole national integration has been achieved through immersing the nation in such sacred geographic features associated with epic narrative, mythology, devotional literature and folklore.

With regard to the objection that Ram Sethu should not be destroyed not only for ecological and economic reasons but also because it has a cultural and spiritual dimension in the heritage of India, Prof. Romila Thapar asks rhetorically: “Has the idea become the heritage?” Perhaps our JNU Professor who is also, U.S. Library of Congress appointed first holder of the Kluge Chair, has been answered long back by a half-naked Fakir when he stated in such simple but forceful words thus:

“What do you think could have been the intention of those farseeing ancestors of ours who established Setubandha (Rameshwar) in the South, Jagannath in the East and Hardwar in the North as places of pilgrimage? You will admit they were no fools. They knew that worship of God could have been performed just as well at home. They taught us that those whose hearts were aglow with righteousness had the Ganges in their own homes. But they saw that India was one undivided land so made by nature. They, therefore, argued that it must be one nation. Arguing thus, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with an idea of nationality in a manner unknown in other parts of the world.” (Hind Swaraj, Chapter 9)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My heart is burning. The day will come and world going to understand India.....not because of economic power.....not becasue of military power...... because of the great cvilization.........
Upto that day I will fight..........

9:12 PM, September 28, 2007  
Blogger Ramesh said...

Great post.

7:08 AM, September 29, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

அரவிந்தன், கருத்துக்களை முழுதும் உள் வாங்க முடியவில்லை.என் ஆங்கில அறிவு அத்தனை ஆழமானது அல்ல. நேரம் கிடைத்தால் இப்பதிவை கொஞ்சம் தமிழ்
படுத்தி வெளியிட முடியுமா என்று பாருங்களேன்.
ராமச் சந்திரன்.

10:12 AM, September 29, 2007  
Blogger Shuuro said...

Had pleasure reading your post!.

10:53 AM, September 29, 2007  
Anonymous B Shantanu said...

Great post...Well done. I am linking it on my blog

8:50 PM, September 29, 2007  
Anonymous Prasanna said...

thoroghly readable piece.I look forward to a regular visit to ur blog.Keep it up ,bro.

10:46 PM, September 29, 2007  
Blogger Photonman said...

Well researched. This should get a wider audience, so that (at the very least) Thapar's piece will have a worthy counter-opinion. Why don't you try 'The Hindu'? ;)

6:17 AM, September 30, 2007  
Blogger kowsik said...

Thank you, for giving an informed rebuttal. While I knew enough to see her double standard on the Jesus issue, I had not read the Jataka and Jain tales and had no answer to her statements on those.

5:12 PM, October 01, 2007  
Blogger Tribikram said...

Thanks a ton for this extremely well researched and well written article. Keep up your good work !

10:24 AM, October 03, 2007  
Anonymous S Prabhakar. said...

Hi Aravind,
You just claim that Thapar readily agrees Jesus and elaborated on it. I give those lines from the article below with highlighted words to notice.
Their biographies adhere largely to a single story-line and this helps to endorse the ‘official’ narrative of their life. Their existence is recorded in other sources as well that are not just narratives of their lives but have diverse associations. The historicity of the Buddha, for example, is established, among other things, by the fact that a couple of centuries after he died, the emperor Ashoka on a visit to Lumbini had a pillar erected to commemorate the Buddha’s place of birth. This is recorded in an inscription on the pillar.
If the current debate had grown from a genuine sense of enquiry, historians might have participated
Human activity has a historical context and this is open to historical comment.
story line - All narratives that historians state are not 'final truths' but story lines. Becos they base on some evidences. They may change if a contradicting 'evidence' is obtained. For Jesus the 'evidences' are all matching to the 'story line' and hence historicity of Jesus is 'ok' and is the current available 'truth'. Obviously historians do not accept 'Dinoysius'. Does that mean that there are no people who doubts the historicity of Jesus? No. For e.g.
What historians do then? They try to 'construct' a historical Jesus from all the 'evidences'.
There is also a seperate effort to find out the historical Jesus from the mythological Jesus.
How many of us are ready to do such classifications with Rama? What many people do is thouroughly mixing myth and upholding them strongly making it more difficult to separate myth and reality.
For e.g. The Sangam literature mention about Rama. But nobody tries to dig/research in further.
What is needed now?
Instead of politicising this further with such roundabout theories, bjp could do some contribution to the history, if they dare.
Say, the Indian Government is bad and purposefully distorting Ram-Sethu bridge; Say Romila Thapar is rejecting the historicity of Rama saying it as a myth; Then what the Rama-believers like Arvind got is an wonderful opportunity to prove that. Isn't it. Is it not possible for bjp to allot a seperate project/ team of archeologists who do the underwater digging at Adam's bridge and prove it now? How many crores it might cost?
Do any of you think bjp or the sangh parivar or rss will do that?

9:10 AM, October 10, 2007  
Blogger shrish said...

great work.thanks

4:26 PM, October 22, 2007  
Blogger jack said...

Bible itself has 4 versions of Jesus.. there was nothin suppressed there...
every jew is linked to king David...
Jesus was a Jew...

I really don understand why the author wants to mix different religious sentiments n make a kichidi out of it... which workd well for nobody...

If they want to proove things... proove them not at the cost of hurting other religious sentiments..

11:09 AM, October 26, 2007  
Anonymous PaydayLoans said...

5A5nES You have a talant! Write more!

10:00 AM, October 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I suggest that you convert this into an article and send it to
EPW as a rejoinder to her article in EPW.

3:00 AM, October 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anand said...

I liked this post very much. Many of the present indians are so careless about their nation's pride and heritage that they go to the extent of defiling our own cultural roots.(But i had one doubt....the same set of passages from your blog barring a few appeared in a recent issue of Bhawan's journal... did you contribute?).

Historicity of Ramayana need not be doubted because we have so many places in contemporary India and srilanka to commemorate the epic.When there is so much of confusion regarding a person who appeared just 2000 years back what to say about lakhs of years?

I would like to mention a few places:
2.Visamitra ashrama(25 mils from Gaya)
3.Visala(27 km from patna)
6.Bharadwaja ashrama(Allahabad)
7.Nandigrama(present nundgaon)
8.Rajagriha(present jalalpur)
9.sringaberapura(22 miles from allahabad)
12.Kishkinda(small village near Hampi)
13.Agasthya ashrama near Nasik
15.Sethu bandanam(rama's bridge)
18.sita talava, sita ela, sita koonda, sitawaka...all in srilanka now.

2:22 AM, November 17, 2007  
Blogger அரவிந்தன் நீலகண்டன் said...

//But i had one doubt....the same set of passages from your blog barring a few appeared in a recent issue of Bhawan's journal... did you contribute?).//

Anand thanks. Yes i contribute occassionally

3:44 AM, November 17, 2007  
Blogger Ashish said...


Great post.

I wonder if you have heard about Caesar's Messiah

This is a book citing multiple parallels, *in the very same chronological sequence*, between the Roman campaign against the messianic Jews and the ministry of Jesus, and argues that the Roman Caesar Flavius Titus is the one on whom "Jesus" is built. The Romans "gave" this created messiah to the Jews to placate them, at the same time asking them to worship their own defeat and degradation at the hands of the Romans. The summary in the link calculates the probability that the sequence of events could occur just by chance, not by design. Do read the summary.

The author, Joseph Atwill, has debated many Christian scholars, and has caused many to ask themselves how they could be so blind as to not see the obvious.

For example, the Romans, in their boats, laughed and joked that "This is like fishing for men" when they had chased after fleeing rebels in the Sea of Galilee and speared and killed any rebel found swimming in the water.

The same "fishing for men" then magically appears in Jesus' mouth (and at the Sea of Galilee).

There are multiple such events, and they occur in the *same order* in Roman history and in the Jesus story.

In statistics, sequence has power. It would be almost impossible for such events to occur in the same sequenc in Roman history and the Jeses story.

And then there is good motive for the Romans to build up a messiah for the Jews.

You can ask Joe questions on his message board (linked) if you need to.

1:32 PM, November 20, 2007  
Blogger அரவிந்தன் நீலகண்டன் said...

Thanks Ashis the for the information. it is really useful.

1:52 PM, November 20, 2007  
Blogger Ashish said...

You are very welcome, Arvind!

2:27 PM, November 20, 2007  
Anonymous Krishnamurthy said...

The period of Rama's Existence and Period of Epic written on Rama are two different timelines and also the contemperory existence of Valmiki himself in the Ramayana and Valmiki as a writer of Ramayana. This is because in Mahabharatha the mention of Rama is made suggesting the existence of Rama much earlier. Which also explains the evolutionary line of existence & predominance of Vanaras & Bhallookas in Ramayana & not in Mahabharatha which is later. Similarly the language of Mahabharatha wrote by Vyasa helped by Lord Ganesha is observed to belong to post-Rigvedic Sanskrit by the historians, also corroborates the view that the epic was written after the event. It is incorrect to relate the time of epic to time of the actual event.
A comment posted by Anand has rightly highlighted that there are many places of Ramayana found in eventwise orderly fashion In India till Lanka which are not merely coincidental. The mention is there is about very few places from the epic and if enlisted with care, at least 2500 places can be found across India which have a local or legendary story associated with the place/event of Ramayana. For example, there is Seetha Seragu (Seetha's Uttareeya) in Hampi (Karnataka). Like wise doubts about how Hanuman would have a single jump from penisula to reach Island, can be clarified if one has read articles about monkeys in Himalayas which had eaten Shilajit stones were able to jump 5 to 10 times the jumping distance covered by a normal monkey.(futher research is required)
In a nut-shell after reserving appreciation to the contributions of Prof Thapar to Indian History, it is precarious that she could not notice that how can so many places related to Ramayana exist in orderly manner throughout India & Srilanka? How can this be termed as coincidental by her?

12:30 AM, December 24, 2008  

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