FIFTH VEDA AS THE INDIAN CANON

 

FIFTH VEDA AS THE INDIAN CANON

India has a single masterwork that can serve as the Canon. It is a library and Encyclopedia all by itself

Navaratna Rajaram

Background

Thinkers and educators in Europe and America have long labored to compile a body of literature produced by writers of the Western civilization that constitutes their most important works and have called it the Western Canon. such canonization may be described as:

The process of listmaking—defining the boundaries of the canon—is endless. The philosopher John Searle has said: “In my experience there never was, in fact, a fixed ‘canon’; there was rather a certain set of tentative judgments about what had importance and quality. Such judgments are always subject to revision, and in fact they were constantly being revised.

One of the notable attempts at compiling an authoritative canon in the English-speaking world was the Great Books of the Western World program. This program, developed in the middle third of the 20th century, grew out of the curriculum at the University of Chicago. University president Robert Maynard Hutchins and his collaborator Mortimer Adler developed a program that offered reading lists, books, and organizational strategies for reading clubs to the general public.

An earlier attempt, the Harvard Classics (1909), was promulgated by Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot, whose thesis was the same as Carlyle’s: The greatest university of all is a collection of books.

So from Thomas Carlyle to the present educators in the West have agreed on the importance of recognizing the need for defining such a canon, even if they differed on its boundaries and content. It is a sad commentary on modern Indian thinkers that no such thinking has been displayed by modern Indian thinkers. Two possible exceptions to this charge are K.M. Munshi’s Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with its Books University Program and the Gita Press (in Hindi) with its publication program of Sanskrit works with translations. But no such Indian canon is available in modern Indian languages.

Fortunately, India has produced a single work that constitutes a canon all by itself—The Mahabharata. This is the spirit—of the Mahabharata as the canon of Indian civilization—in which the present work has been undertaken. It seeks to fill a void in Indian education by presenting the Mahabharata as more than a great epic or even a historical epic.

At the same time, every canon must be recreated in each era or even generation for the simple reason, new works need to be included and those once thought to be important may have lost their relevance. This holds even for a timeless work like the Mahabharata or the Bible for the reason that in every generation the tastes and capacities of readers change. The canon must also change to remain relevant. In the case of the Mahabharata, which is rarely read in the original one needs to take into account changes in language and taste. Many young Indians today read mostly in English which was not the case even fifty years ago. Even in English, it is rarely read completely as given for example in Kesri Mohan Ganguli’s work (sometimes wrongly called Roy’s translation).

Above: Ugrasrava Sauti reciting the narrative at Shaunaka’s assembly in the Naimisha forest

Formidable work

Few can tackle this formidable work even when available in translation. Let there be no doubt on this count—the Mahabharata is a formidable work, not accessible to everyone, no matter what the language. Here is a description that gives an idea of the task.

A distinguished Western devotee of the Mahabharata (Haven O’More of the University of Chicago, which conceived the idea of the idea of the Western Canon) touched on this aspect of this supreme work by describing it in the following words:

Greater than any mountain, the Mahabharata sits supreme, its top veiled in clouds, with powerful winds and biting cold. Truly, it is said, the Mahabharata gives birth, and also gives death. For it contains an account of the life and acts of the Supreme Ruler Himself, Creator and Destroyer of the universe, who binds human beings and all manifestations “on a chain, of which one end is life, the other is death.” A great intellectual and spiritual mountain, it unveils itself only to the most passionate, intense, sincere, full of truth to themselves and others, athletic, death-defying climbers. Civilizations rise up and decay; the great mountain penetrates into the whole/holy possibility of Universal Manifestation — even, paradoxically, resting simultaneously in the Unmanifest Itself.

And Veda Vyasa himself, the poet of the Mahabharata, tells us:

yatha samudre bhagavan, yatha merurmahagirih;

ubhau khyatau ratnanidhi, tatha bharatamucyate.

 

Veda Vyasa dictating the epic to his scribe Ganesha

As is the ocean O Lord, and Mount Meru the mighty mountain peak,

Both renowned for the treasures they hold, so indeed is the Mahabharata.

            What then is the scope of this literary monument that towers over every other creation of man? On the surface it is the story of the dynasty of the Bharatas, known also as the Kurus. Bharatanam mahajjanma mahabharatamucyate — “The great life story of the Bharatas, that is called Mahabharata.” Its narrative portion is taken up by the story of the struggle for supremacy between the rival cousins of the Bharata dynasty known as the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the latter emerging victorious thanks to the guidance of Krishna. But this is only on a superficial reading. For the poet Vyasa uses this great historical epic as the vehicle for expounding the verities of life, for persons from all walks of life. With this in mind, the great 15th century South Indian poet Kumara-Vyasa (Son of Vyasa) introduced his masterwork as follows (translated from Kannada):

With tales of valor to inspire every prince,

For scholars to find in it the Vedas’ essence,

For thinkers the fount of philosophy, for statesmen, wisdom nonpareil;

For separated lovers full storied romance,

For critics — blessed with taste and grace,

Kumara-Vyasa wrote his Bharata— to be hailed the master of all.

In more direct if less ornate fashion, Veda Vyasa himself, the original master of the Mahabharata describes it as containing:

            dharmashastramidam puņyam, arthashastramimam param;

            mokshashastramidam proktam, vyasenamitabuddhina.

            dharme carthe ca kame ca, mokshe ca bharatasrhabha;

            yadihasti tadanyatra, yannehasti na tat kvacit.

 

Laws for righteous living, the best for acquiring wealth without sin;

Teachings to attain salvation, all proclaimed by Vyasa of boundless intellect.

Be it Law or profitable venture, objects to wish or transcendent wisdom;

O Bharata Prince! What’s here may be found elsewhere, but what’s not here is nowhere.

This brings us back to the beginning, of the Mahabharata as the eternal encyclopedia of perennial philosophy of life and death as taught and practiced by Lord Krishna, and preserved for eternity by another Krishna the Island-born, rightly known as Veda Vyasa who organized also the Vedas.       

What is not here is nowhere  

The Mahabharata, the national epic or the canon of Bharat — or the Land of the Bharatas — is the embodiment of the two eternal verities that have sustained the Indian civilization through its many vicissitudes. It is the practical wisdom distilled from the historical experience spanning untold millennia, and the application of the Vedic principle of ā no bharda kratavo yantu vishwataḥ —  “Let felicitous thoughts come to us from every source.” The result is an encyclopedia that combines history, philosophy and dharma — or code of conduct — in a manner unmatched in human experience. And this essence of life and afterlife is conveyed by Lord Krishna himself in both theory and practice, through the example of his own life.

The word ‘epic’, though commonly used, is a serious contraction when applied to the mighty Mahabharata. It is like calling Mount Everest a hill. The statement by Haven O’More previously quoted comes nearer to describing its true scope

And Veda Vyasa himself, the poet of the Mahabharata, tells us:

yatha samudre bhagavan, yatha merurmahagirih;

ubhau khyatau ratnanidhi, tatha bharatamucyate.

As is the ocean O Lord, and Mount Meru the mighty peak,

Renowned both for the treasures they hold, so indeed is the Mahabharata.

             What then is the scan and scope of this literary monument that towers over every other creation of man? On the surface it is the story of the dynasty of the Bharatas, known also as the Kurus. Bharatanam mahajjanma mahabharatamucyate — “The great life story of the Bharatas, that is called Mahabharata.” Its major portion is taken up by the story of the struggle for supremacy between the cousins of the Bharata dynasty known as the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the latter emerging victorious thanks to the help of Krishna. But this is only on a superficial reading. For the poet Vyasa uses this great historical epic as the vehicle for expounding the verities of life, for persons from all walks of life. With this in mind, the great 15th century South Indian poet Kumara-Vyasa introduced his Kannada version of the epic as previously described and worth recalling:

 

In direct if less ornate fashion, the Mahabharata describes its own scope as containing:

 

            dharmashastramidam punyam, arthashastramimam param;

            mokshashastramidam proktam, vyasenamitabuddhina.

 

            dharme carthe ca kame ca, mokshe ca bharatasrhabha;

            yadihasti tadanyatra, yannehasti na tat kvacit.

 

Laws for righteous living, the best for acquiring wealth without sin;

Teachings to attain salvation, all proclaimed by Vyasa of limitless intellect.

Be it Law or profitable venture, objects to wish or transcendent wisdom;

O Bharata Prince! What’s here may be found elsewhere, but what’s not here is nowhere.

 

It brings us back to the beginning, of the Mahabharata as the eternal encyclopedia of perennial philosophy of life and death as taught and practiced by Lord Krishna, and recorded by another Krisnha — Krishna-dvaipayana, or Krishna the Island-born known as Veda Vyasa. This brings me to the text of the Mahabharata as it exists today.

 

Versions of the Mahabharata

            Every Indian child knows — or should know — that the author of the Mahabharata is Veda Vyasa who wrote an eyewitness account of the events in epic form. Those who see themselves as traditionalists hold that the Mahabharata we have today has come down to us exactly as Vyasa wrote it more than five thousand years ago. The problem with this view is that we have today not one but several versions of the epic. There is the Southern edition, the Kashmir version, the Bengal version and a few more. All these have variant readings though they are substantially the same. The Gita Press edition is probably the most popular, but it is a combination of the Southern and the Northern editions. So which of these editions is Vyasa’s original? Does it really matter as long we have its message—in spirit and content.

Editions of the Mahabharata

The classic edition is the multi-volume (19  volumes) Critical edition by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune sometimes known as the Poona edition. It is exhaustive but hardly for the average reader. The one I use is the so-called Kumbhakonam (Southern edition) compiled by Vyasacharya and Krishnacharya. It is entirely in Sanskrit, including the footnotes which are excellent and highly informative. The Gita Press edition is inexpensive and comes with translation (mine in Hindi).

In English, the most popular is the Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari, published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Bhavan). It is readable but brief, too brief for serious readers. Bhavan has also published a more comprehensive English version by Kamal Subramanyam (daughter of the famous Kannada playwright T.P. Kailasam). It is highly recommended. The English version by William Buck is easily available and highly readable but again very brief. There is at least one in every Indian language.

JANMASHTAMI SPECIAL

KRISHNA THE PURUSHOTTAMA

As we approach another Janmashtami, it is wort looking at what makes Krishna a Purushottama, in the Vedantic sense.

N.S. Rajaram

The mystery

What is the mystery of Krishna? What is it that makes him keep his hold on the people of India and now the world thousands of years after he departed from this world? To make things more interesting, his followers include not only the bhaktas who see him as a divinity but also people who consider themselves rationalists and even atheists that do not accept the divine. To follow this, we need to recognize that Krishna was both an avatar (incarnation) and Purushottama— the Supreme Man. Krishna the man was as inspiring as Krishna the avatar of Vishnu. This holds the key to his universal appeal.
But first, we must answer the question: was Krishna a historical figure or was he a creation of the imagination of his devotees? Thanks to research over the past century and more, beginning with Bankima Chandra Chatterji, it is possible to say that Krishna was indeed a historical figure who lived some five thousand years ago and whose life can be reconstructed in essentials. He is mentioned in many ancient works, many of which have nothing to do with religion or historical tradition.

Krishna was a key figure in the Mahabharata War though he remained a non-combatant. Panini, in his ancient work on Sanskrit grammar Ashtadhyayi, mentions Vasudeva (Krishna) and Arjuna as well as several other Mahabharata figures like Kunti, Yudhishtira and Nakula. He mentions also the Mahabharata War. Ashwalayana, another ancient writer, mentions the Mahabharata along with Vaishampayana, who first recited it in the presence of Janamejaya. The Chandogya Upanishad also mentions Krishna-Devakiputra (Krishna, Son of Devaki). There are many other references in the Vedic and Buddhist literature. Unlike the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata and the other Puranas, these are not part of the Itihasa-Purana literature concerned with the worship of Krishna. The only reason they mention him at all is because of familiarity, which shows that Krishna must already have been a famous figure.

Krishna’s date

As far as the date of Krishna is concerned, tradition has always held that he lived at the end of the Dwapara Yuga and that Kali Yuga began with his death. This date is taken to be 3102 BC. Until recently, this date was thought to be impossible because scholars held that the invading Vedic Aryans came to India only after 1500 BC. Before the discovery of the Harappan (or the Indus Valley) Civilization, it was held that there was no civilization in India prior to that date. But now many scholars are beginning to recognize that the Harappan Civilization was itself Vedic and there was no Aryan invasion. Thus, tradition places Krishna and the Mahabharata War in what we now call the Early Harappan period.

This date can be supported both by science and literature. We have astronomical statements in Ashwalayana’s work that allow us to place the Mahabharata War, and therefore Krishna, in the centuries around 3000 BC. Greek records of the time of Alexander also tell us that the Indian Heracles (Hari-Krishna), who was greatly honored by the Shurasenas of Methora (Mathura) lived 138 generations before Alexander’s contemporary Sandracottos (Chandragupta). Taking 20 years per generation places Krishna 2760 years before Alexander or about 3080 BC. This is in remarkably close agreement with the traditional date of 3102 BC for the Mahabharata War.
Next, to understand the appeal that Krishna had from his times to our own, we must recognize that in his time, Vedanta offered a rational way of looking at the world just as science does today. The greatness of Krishna lay in the fact that he was not only a great teacher, but also supremely great as a human being, who always strove to protect dharma. This made him Purushottama.

Vedantic view

His contemporaries like Bhisma and Veda Vyasa explained it in Vedantic terms. According to Vedanta every living being is endowed with both divine (daivic) and demonic (asuric) traits. The Bhagavadgita has a chapter on this. They saw that a Purushottama like Krishna must be dominated by daivic traits.
Later followers of Krishna lacked this Vedantic view, but saw him as a supernatural figure and therefore a God. They translated his daivic traits into supernatural powers. So Krishna the Supreme Man became Krishna the God who could work miracles. No matter how we view him, God or Purushottama, Krishna remains an inspiration for all.

Why study the Historical Krishna?
The personality of Krishna is so rich that it leads to different perceptions in different minds. Although I am convinced that the elevation of Krishna to divinity is not the handiwork the original poet (Veda Vyasa or Krishna-Dvaipayana), it really does not matter. The complexity of the Krishna phenomenon — and the fact that his life and personality defy all attempts to reduce him to simple terms — has existed for centuries and millennia. It is a living reality today. None of us can change it or take away the mystery that surrounds him. What we need to understand therefore is the process by which this elevation to divinity came about, and how to deal with this reality today, when we are faced with a vast Hindu population that believes in his divinity and also thousands of ‘educated’ Hindus like me that consider themselves ‘rationalist’.
My own view, based on the Gita, Sri Aurobindo and the Mahabharata is that two fundamental concepts have had a role in the process: the aupureshya quality of a great truth and the Vedantic concept of divinity in everyone. But this has changed with the times, for we no longer live in the Vedantic milieu—an age in which Vedanta offered a rational way of looking at the world. To Krishna’s contemporaries like Vyasa and Bhisma, Vedanta was a reality, part of their everyday thinking, much as science is to us today. Their world-view was shaped by Vedanta, just as ours is shaped by science. This allowed them to combine history and spiritual vision into a true synthesis. Let me try and expand on this a little bit.

Sri Aurobindo on Krishna’s divinity

My first point is that we cannot ignore the history behind the Gita and treat it as a purely abstract philosophic work. On page 12 of Essays on the Gita, Sri Aurobindo acknowledges as much: “The teaching of the Gita must therefore be regarded not merely in the light of a general spiritual philosophy or ethical doctrine, but as bearing upon a practical crisis in the application of ethics and spirituality to human life.” And again on page 13, “There are indeed three things in the Gita which are spiritually significant,…; they are the divine personality of the Teacher, his characteristic relations with his disciple and the occasion of his teaching.” (My emphasis.) The Gita cannot therefore be divested of its Mahabharata setting. So the history is there, never to be ignored.
Let me take up the issue of the divinity of the Teacher. What makes the Teacher divine? I have at different times emphasized the aupurusheya concept in Hinduism: it is the message and not the messenger that counts. This is an idea that lies at the heart of the spiritual basis of Vedic civilization. It is the greatness of his teaching that makes Krishna a divine teacher.

Sri Aurobindo expresses the same idea more concretely, by drawing on Jesus Christ (p 15): “Such controversies as the one that has raged in Europe over the historicity of Christ, would seem to a spiritually-minded Indian largely a waste of time; … So too the Krishna who matters to us is the eternal incarnation of the Divine and not the historical teacher and leader of men.”
There is a seeming contradiction in these two stands: the history does matter, but the historicity of the teacher (Krishna) is immaterial, more of which later.* This is because of the divinity of Krishna as seen by his devotees, has two sources: his teaching, of which most of his followers have only the vaguest notion, and the personality of Krishna, the Purushottama or the Best of Men. I think this is a point of cardinal importance: Krishna was not only a great teacher, but was also Purushottama. Vishwamitra of the Gayatri Mantra was also a great teacher, but no one worships him as divine, for he was no Purushottama. On the other hand Sri Rama is worshipped, though he has no claims to a scripture like the Gita. But he too was a Purushottama.
I feel it would leave a vacuum in our understanding of Krishna if we looked at him strictly as a great teacher, while leaving out his exemplary life of sacrifice and as sarva-guna-sampanna, as Bhisma called him. If we look strictly at his teaching, to be truly great, it has to be apaurusheya, so the personality behind the teaching should not matter. But here the personality does matter, for Krishna is no mere teacher: he did not just teach karmayoga— his own life exemplified it. This is what made him Purushottama— or human par excellence.
This is where Krishna towers the over the other great teachers in history. Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are held up as great teachers, but none of them was a Purushottama. Their teaching is also not apaurusheya, for without the authority of the claim (unsupported), as being the ‘Medium of God’, their teaching has no validity. It is the very paurusheya claim as the Only Son of God or the Final Prophet that legitimizes their teaching, but that is a different story.
Let us look more closely at the basis for Krishna’s divinity. This too has multiple sources. The first person to raise the possibility of the divine in Krishna was Bhisma on the occasion of the Rajasuya (Sabha Parva). This I believe to be part of the original Mahabharata of Vyasa. To understand this we must grasp the Vedantic concept of divinity present in everyone and everything: ishavasyam idam sarvam. The Gita itself talks about the Daivic and the Asuric traits in man. In Krishna, the Daivic had attained full dimension. So, to men like Bhisma steeped in the Vedantic, Krishna was a divine figure by virtue of the Daivic dominance. Within the framework of Vedanta this is a perfectly rational position. You can call it avatar or whatever you like, but I see it as the domination of the Daivic that is present in all of us. In Krishna it manifested itself in spirituality. In Tyagaraja, it was in music; in Ramanujam in mathematics, in Einstein, in science and so on. This does not invoke the supernatural, nor is it superstition. The phenomenon is there, only the explanation is wanting. This explanation is provided by Vedanta as a manifestation of the divine.
Let us now move to later times, especially the present. We no longer live in a Vedantic milieu. We don’t look at the world with Vedantic eyes as Bhisma and Vyasa did. Most of us calling ourselves ‘rational’ do not see the world in Daivic and Asuric terms. With that we have lost the rational basis for spirituality or ‘avatar’. This has given us also a division between ‘faith’ and ‘reason’. Krishna’s devotees still see him as divine. Among intellectuals this may be because of his teaching. But I suggest that with the overwhelming majority people it is Krishna the Purushottama that is the real object of adoration and worship. I also feel this is closer to the Vedantic view because it doesn’t give rise to the split between faith and reason. Only, in the case of modern devotees, faith has taken the place of the Vedantic view.

Vedantic view and the supernatural

And how do these worshippers see divinity? They obviously don’t see it in Vedantic terms like Bhisma or as the teacher of the divine Gita. They see the divine by endowing him with supernatural powers. This is what the later poets made of Krishna. This has no historical or even Vedantic validity, but it made his divinity accessible to the simplest soul. In their eyes Krishna the Purushottama becomes Krishna the miracle-worker. This explains how predominantly erotic works like Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda are seen as divine prayers.

Alexander, an asuric divinity

Incidentally, the elevation of a human figure to godhood is common in other pagan traditions also. The Greeks even elevated Alexander to be a god, but he was an Asuric God. No one would call him Purushottama.
Biblical religions on the other hand draw a clear line between man and God. This essentially reverses the process by which a teacher is equated with God as a pseudo-god calling himself Prophet. The Prophet becomes the instrument of God and allows no one else to encroach on his territory. In reality God becomes the monopoly tool of the Prophet— many in Judaism, but single in Christianity and Islam.

Best of men and divine teacher

In summary, Krishna the Purushottama is no less important than Krishna the Divine Teacher. Take away his divinity, he is none the worse for the loss. The Purushottama remains Acyuta, imperishable and indestructible. (This is not true of other great religious teachers. H.G. Wells called Muhammad a man of “altogether common clay.”) Thousands of Hindus who have difficulty in grasping the notion of divinity can still admire and adore him as Purushottama. Highlighting this I believe will broaden rather than weaken his appeal. I for one would have difficulty accepting the Krishna of Puranic myths, but never fail to be inspired by Purushottama.
At a different level this has practical consequences also. Note that anti-Hindu demagogues like Christian missionaries and communists  attack the personality of Krishna, rarely his message. On the other hand they try to appropriate his Gita, with some even claiming to see the Biblical influence on it! (This is palpably absurd even on basic chronological grounds.) My hope is that our educated young people also, when they see Krishna the Purushottama, might stop being defensive about him.  They will see Krishna the Purushottama whose life as a man was as a great a lesson as anything he or anyone ever taught. He was also the grand synthesis of the human and the divine with no conflict between faith and reason.

MIRACLE OF MEDIEVAL INDIA

MIRACLE OF MEDIEVAL INDIA

How India managed to survive as a civilization where others failed. It is a tale of heroism not failure. It is the courtiers who have let down India.

Navaratna Rajaram

 

Background

In the past couple of months I had the opportunity of reading two books: (1) Bharatiya Kshatra Parampara (in Kannada) by Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh; (2) Yavudu Charitre (Kannada version of a book originally written in Telugu), meaning “What is history?” They were eye-opening to say the least for shedding light on the central problem of Indian history: How did the Hindu civilization survive the onslaught of Islamic barbarians, while other ancient civilizations, Egypt, Rome, Mesopotamia, Iran and Central Asia, disappeared with hardly a trace. Yet Indian history books record mainly the activities of these invaders and little of the heroic achievements of the Indians who sacrificed everything for their country. This is what children should learn in school, not the record of invaders chronicled by their courtiers.

Happily Dr. Ganesh’s book on India’s Kshatra (heroic/warrior tradition) will soon be available in English. For it is the heroism of India’s warriors that has protected us in the past, does so now and has to in the future. That is why enemies of the nation like the Gandhi family and its courtiers are doing all they can to demoralize the armed forces, they are part of the Tukde Tukde Forces, even their patrons.

This impulse to treat India’s history as the record of intruders (or invaders) has led to devaluing and even disregarding native records and tradition both oral and written. For instance the defeat of Moghul forces by Assamese and the Rajputs finds little or no mention in history books. They fail to note even the fact that Ahmad Shah Abdali’s victory at the Third Battle of Panipat was chimerical and the Mahrathas under Peshwa Madhava Rao II were soon in control of Delhi.

Not only Rajputs, Sikhs under Maharaja Ranjit Singh had driven the Afghans out of the Punjab, taking over Peshawar and the northwest all the way to the Khyber Pass. And Shivaji of course had broken the Moghul hold on Central and South India, just as Vijayanagar and the Rajputs had broken the hold of the Delhi Sultanate two centuries earlier.

This, the Miracle of Medieval India is and should be the real history not the record of barbarian invaders whose contributions amount to nothing of lasting value. It is a history of the heroism of the people of India not the destruction wrought by invaders.

Why is all this not found in our history books? Because for nearly seventy years, they have been written by courtiers, who are not interested in heroism or sacrifice. Such a person doesn’t care whom he/she serves. Moghuls, the British or a foreign family of no concern for the nation. All they care for are position and reward.

 

Courtier’s credo

Maximilien Robespierre was an important leader of the French Revolution. He  saw courtiers as a danger for their lack of heroic spirit, or kshatra for they thrive on the power of others but are interested only in themselves. In his words:

If they are Caesars or Cromwells, they seize power for themselves. If they are spineless courtiers, uninterested in doing good yet dangerous when they seek to do harm, they go back to lay their power at their master’s feet, and help him to resume arbitrary power on condition they become his chief servants. All they are after is reward for themselves at little or no risk.

This been and continues to be the favoured route of many intellectuals in India, for over seventy years. What is found in textbooks today is their version of history. It is time it was changed. It is long overdue. Our children should be proud of the nation and its history, not made to  feel like perpetual  losers.

Indpendence Day: Vivekananda’s message

INDEPENDENCE DAY: SWAMI VIVEKANANDA ON NATIONAL EDUCATION

Sri Aurobindo noted that India needs another Freedom Movement. This must heed Swamy Vivekananda’s message given a hundred year ago.

Navaratna Rajaram

PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE: BUILD ON STRENGTH

India needs high achievers who can inspire, not men of privileged birth who reward courtiers

N.S. Rajaram

          Indian leadership must go beyond progress (Vikas) and begin to encourage and emphasize excellence.

Vivekananda on education: build on strength

          Indian thinkers have not been blind to the idea of building strength through proper education. Swami Vivekananda had profound insight into the needs of national education. Probably the greatest insight that he brought to the problem was the recognition that education must focus on strength, which alone builds self-confidence. This is the exact opposite of Macaulay’s vision, which was to make Indians weak and dependent on the West by making them feel inferior. Vivekananda would have none of it. For him the purpose of education was to create strong and independent men and women who in turn would create a strong society and a strong nation. He wanted everyone to be physically, mentally, and above all spiritually strong. His follower Sister Christine put it this way:

          “He refused to solve our problem for us. Principles he laid down, but we ourselves must find the application. He encouraged no spineless dependence upon him in any form, no bid for sympathy. “Stand upon your own feet. You have the power within you!” he thundered. His whole purpose was not to make things easy for us, but to teach us how to develop our innate strength. “Strength! Strength!” He cried, “I preach nothing but strength…” ”

For this reason he called education ‘man-making’, though by ‘man’ he meant a spiritually strong human being rather than a mere male. (In Sanskrit, a purusha is one who has paurusha— heroic quality.) Again in the words of Sister Christine:

“From men he demanded manliness and from women the corresponding quality for which there is no word. Whatever it is, it is the opposite of self-pity, the enemy of weakness and indulgence. This attitude had the effect of a tonic. Something long dormant was aroused and with it came strength of freedom… We were taught to think things through, to reject the false and hold to the true fearlessly. In this process much that had seemed worthwhile and of value was cast aside. Perhaps our purposes and our aims had been small and scattered. In time we learnt to lift them into a higher purer region, and to unite all these little aims into one great aim, the goal of which is the real purpose of life, for which we come to this earth again and again.”

 

This is what the goal of education should be— not to produce emotional and spiritual weaklings that throng the courts of anyone who has a few crumbs to throw from the table. It is worth recalling what the great historian Edward Gibbon said, speaking of the fall of the Greeks to the Romans:

 

“Greeks valued security more than freedom. In the end they lost both— security and freedom.” This is what is happening with the courtiers who are clinging desperately to their colonial umbilical cord— from Sonia Gandhi’s court to the few crumbs thrown at them by Western institutions. They have sold their freedom for the sake of security, but they will end up losing both. Worse, seen as the elite, they have brought national life down to their own level and thinking.

 

It is time that India, her educational system in particular, came out of this spiritual prison and made itself a proud and free nation. To achieve this goal, we have before us the teachings and the example of intellectual warriors like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda. As Sister Nivedita wrote of the presence of Vivekananda before the great Chicago Parliament of Religions:    “Monk, they called him, not unwarrantably, but warrior monk he was, and the first impression was the warrior rather than the monk, …and his figure was instinct with pride,…”

Our goal should be strength through excellence, not patronage through pity. But this debilitating culture that values birth, be it as caste or ‘dynasty’, over achievement is what dominates the national scene today. This has deprived the nation of true heroes as role models.

Krishna’s message: Yoga is excellence

Everyone knows, or should know Krishna’s famous teaching to Arjuna in the Gita: “Your right is to your duty, never ever to its fruits. Let not the fruits of (your labor) distract you from the discharge of your duties, not let them allow you to desist from performing your duty.” What is not sufficiently recognized is that this is a formula for excellence at the highest level.

This means that a highly accomplished person (like Arjuna) should set his sights high and strive for more than success—  pursuing excellence for its own sake. Working for profit, though not inherently wrong, is unworthy of a great man like Arjuna. This is made explicit in the succeeding shlokas. “Absorbed in yoga and abandoning self-interest, occupy yourself in performing your duty (to the best of your ability). Keeping an equable state of mind while holding success and failure the same— this state is called yoga.”

This defines yoga as pursuit of excellence, with focus on the task rather than the result, undisturbed by the prospect of success and failure. It means not allowing the fear of failure to make one retreat from a challenging task. Krishna next points out that even the act itself is inferior to this perfectionist attitude that one brings to its performance. In Krishna’s words, “Those motivated by fruits alone are to be pitied.” In the next shloka (50) Krishna points out how this leads to excellence.

Krishna’s exact words (in Sanskrit) are: tasmād yogāya yujyasva yogah karmasu kauşalam, meaning, “Act with this singleness of purpose, for this yoga leads to excellence.” The last phrase karmasu kauşalam means excellence in performance. By this Krishna identifies yoga with pursuit of excellence.

 

At the time of the Mahabharata War, when Krishna acted as the advisor to the Pandavas, he had achieved everything— wealth, power and fame; he had no desire for position. Yet he saw his responsibility as an example that others would seek to follow. This was his message to Arjuna when he said, “You see Arjuna, there is nothing in the three worlds that I need or want. Yet I never cease acting. If I stop acting, others will follow me and I will be the cause of degeneracy in the world. For, as leaders do, so will others follow.”

In short, Krishna was telling Arjuna that as a leader he had to show that he should aim to be a worthy role model to the world. And this was to be through ‘excellence in action’ (karmasu kaushalam) and not rhetoric. Deeds always speak louder than words.

Excellence can only be achieved, never  inherited. This needs another movement as Sri Aurobindo prophesied.

A WELCOME ADDITION TO INDIAN HISTORY

 

HOW TO TEACH HISTORY— AND HOW NOT TO

  It is now a time worn cliché that the teaching of Indian history has been distorted. The real question is how to correct it. A committed teacher has taken an important step by showing how to go about doing it.

Navaratna Rajaram

 

Swami Vivekananda and Dr. Abdul Kalam on teaching history

Speaking before the Kerala History Association, Kochi on 18 Dec. 2005, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, then President and quite possibly the most respected intellectual in India observed: “The best historians present us with descriptions and analyses of the past that make unfamiliar times and places somehow comprehensible. In seeking to penetrate the veil of the past, we end up by studying how other individuals and societies dealt with the practical and existential problems at least related to our own.”

After this sage observation, Dr. Kalam came specifically to Indian history and noted: “My observation is that in India many have written history of India [coming] both from the Indian historians recently and by those who had conquered us. So far, even 58 years after Independence, the dogmas, rituals, systems and norms of the historical past, imposed by the last millennium of invasion and conquest, still continue to condition our minds.” Most tellingly he emphasized:

We tend more to conform to the past, rather than think in true freedom and create a future, free from the pain of the past. Now time has come, in the 21st century, we need new breed of historians who can make the past meet the present and create the future…”

More than a century before Dr. Kalam, Swami Vivekananda told a group of youngsters (1891): “Study Sanskrit, but along with it study Western sciences as well. Learn accuracy, my boys, study and labor so that the time will come when you can put our history on a scientific basis… The histories of our country written by English writers cannot but be weakening to our minds, for they talk only of our downfall. How can foreigners, who understand very little of our manners and customs, or our religion and philosophy, write faithful and unbiased histories of India?”

 

He then went on to observe: “Naturally many false notions and wrong inferences have found their way into them. Nevertheless they have shown us how to proceed making researches into our ancient history. Now it is for us to strike out an independent path of historical research for ourselves, to study the Vedas and Puranas and the ancient annals (Itihasas) of India, and from them make it your sadhana (disciplined endeavor) to write accurate, sympathetic and soul-inspiring history of India. It is for Indians to write Indian history.”

 

Without resorting to polemics, Vivekananda exhorted his youthful audience to “…never cease to labor until you have revived the glorious past of India in the consciousness of the people. That will be the true national education, and with its advancement, a true national spirit will be awakened.” What he left unsaid was that such an approach would need them to develop new tools of historical research leading to new methodologies

Historical method

One scholar who appears to have taken this message to heart is Smt Kamlesh Kapur, an educator of great experience both in India and the U.S. She has put her knowledge, experience and the spirit invoked by Dr. Kalam and Swami Vivekananda into practice in producing the book Portraits of a Nation: History of Ancient India. The result is a valuable book not only for teaching history but one that can serve as a possible guide for future writers. In addition to giving the facts of history as can best be reconstructed the author provides details of methodology used and historiography.

A book along these lines should have been—and could have been—written fifty years ago but was not. The reasons are several, but two need to be highlighted because they have persisted. First, there was the Nehruvian feudal establishment; and pandering to his tastes and prejudices became the route to recognition and career success. This meant that the views advanced in Jawaharlal Nehru’s amateurish and entirely Eurocentric work Discovery of India became entrenched in history books as the ‘authorized’ view. To go with this, a whole generation of historians beginning with Romila Thapar and R.S. Sharma were trained by a single British professor— A.L. Basham of the School of Oriental Studies in London. Basham was more a religious scholar than a historian or archaeologists and his legacy has persisted.

It is unhealthy for any institution to be so in-bred in its research and faculty, with everyone trained to think the same way. A prime example is the Center for Historical Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Until recently it was dominated by the Marxist historian (and Basham student) Romila Thapar and a clique around her. A singular feature of ‘scholars’ belonging to this clique is their ignorance of Indian languages, especially Sanskrit. This is true of Thapar also though it has not stopped her from writing extensively about Vedic India! As a result they are totally dependent on English translations made by colonial scholars. This has resulted in what Sri Aurobindo called their “lack of sturdy independence” and “excessive deference to European authority.”

What this clique has produced is copycat scholarship, with status tied to how closely they follow their erstwhile European masters. This makes them oppose any revisions to Eurocentric models like the Aryan invasion theory and the Aryan-Dravidian myth. In fact, the strongest defenders today of these discredited notions are not Europeans anymore but their Indian followers. Harappans as Dravidians and victims of the Aryan invasion is propagated not by European scholars but Dravidian politicians like Karunanidhi. (One exception is Asko Parpola who was paid a generous reward by Karunanidhi for endorsing the DMK ideology built on the Aryan-Dravidian divide.)

This sheds light on another aspect of the post-Independence history establishment, especially of the JNU-AMU school. (AMU stands for the Aligarh Muslim University.) It is known more for political activism than any contributions to scholarship. Underlying their political posturing is the denial of everything good about India. Vedas and Sanskrit were brought by invading Aryans; Indian astronomy is of Greek origin; Muslim invaders including Babar never destroyed any Hindu temples—you get the drift.

            Much of this can be explained by the fact that this arrogance and posturing is a façade to cover up their deficiency in scholarship and inferiority complex. Being ignorant of both science and the primary sources (in Sanskrit)— they feel their best defense lies in denial and attack. This came to the fore when this writer and the late Natwar Jha in 2000 proposed a solution to the Harappan script puzzle by linking its language to Vedic Sanskrit and presenting readings of a large number of inscriptions. This of course demolishes the Aryan-Dravidian myth. The reaction of JNU-AMU clique was not any attempt at refutation, but a personal attack in the Communist magazine Frontline. Even here, Romila Thapar, lacking the self-confidence to deal with our work (based on Vedic Sanskrit), went to the Hindu-baiter Michael Witzel of Harvard to mount the attack. (The recent attack on Subramanian Swamy by Witzel and his colleague Diana Eck is not without precedent.)

            In pursuit of their goals, this clique has not hesitated to deny and even falsify evidence. A prime example that had tragic consequences was its denial and falsification of evidence for the existence of a prior temple and its destruction beneath the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. This was noted by the judge who severely criticized these scholars for their role. In its judgment on the long-standing Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, the Allahabad High Court flayed the role played by several witnesses including Thapar’s protégé Shereen Ratnagar.  She was forced to admit under oath that she had no field experience in archeological excavations in India. Still their hostility bordering on hatred towards their ancestral land and culture is hard to comprehend. They owe everything to India; unlike Indian scientists and professionals, they would be nonentities in the West. Perhaps Shakespeare said it best when Julius Caesar was murdered by his erstwhile followers: “What private griefs these men have, alas, I know not.”

Be as it may, Smt Kamlesh Kapur, the author of Portraits of a Nation: History of Ancient India suffers from no such deficiencies or ignorance of primary sources and science that need to be concealed behind any façade. She displays a refreshingly original approach to the sources. For example, she observes that the Vedas, the Rig Veda in particular has been the most faithfully preserved text of the ancient world and hence has suffered the least in terms of interpolations. As a result, we must treat the Vedic records— names, dynasties, astronomical statements, etc—as the most reliable and accord them the highest priority.

This is a valuable insight: it means that statements that seemingly violate our beliefs (like Aryans as nomadic invaders) cannot be dismissed. For example, if the Rig Veda describes a maritime society of rivers, oceans and ships as David Frawley pointed out more than 20 years ago, we cannot ignore it and insist that it was nomadic pastoral. Also to be admired is the author’s bold multidisciplinary approach to history by looking at natural history, genetics, and archaeo-astronomy in addition to the usual sources like archaeology and literary records. In fact, some of this material appears for the first time in a textbook (as opposed to articles and research monographs by Oppenheimer, Cavalli-Sforza and this writer).

In the process, the author succeeds in building a sound foundation in historiography not only for her book but for all future students of Indian history. A particular strength of the book is that its author is no ivory tower academic writing to impress her peers but an educationist of great experience who has worked with students and teachers for many years. She has seen the problems at ground level, and by taking the bull by the horns produced a book that is at once up to date and pedagogically sound. It is an invaluable source for teaching about ancient India that no teacher, school or library should be without.

To appreciate the value of Smt Kamlesh Kapur’s work it helps to have some idea of the magnitude of the distortion—nay perversions—inflicted on generations of innocent young minds by self-serving academics in the name of history. It is a vast subject, but here is a brief summary. It is a case study in how not to teach history—or any subject for that matter.

How Not to teach: Historians or ‘distortians’?

While most educated Indians now have at least an idea that their history has been distorted, few know the lengths to which ‘scholars’—European and Indian—have gone to preserve and perpetuate the Aryan myth. Given the Aryans’ importance to their worldview, it is extraordinary that after two hundred years of voluminous outpourings, these scholars are still unable to identify them. Originally they were claimed to be a race related to Europeans but science has discredited it. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, scholars avoid overtly racial arguments but the basic idea of an invasion by Europeans bringing civilization to India is retained even if they acknowledge that ancient Indian records know nothing of any such invasion. All we have are repeated assertions of their central dogma. As expressed by the late Murray Emeneau, a leading linguist:

“At some time in the second millennium B.C., probably comparatively early in the millennium, a band or bands of speakers of an Indo-European language, later to be called Sanskrit, entered India over the northwest passes. This is our linguistic doctrine which has been held now for more than a century and a half. There seems to be no reason to distrust the arguments for it, in spite of the traditional Hindu ignorance of any such invasion.”

Tail wagging the dog

This is typical of the field, with arguments closer to theology than to science. In short Emeneau and his ilk are telling us: “Evidence be damned, we know Aryans invaded India and brought the Vedas.” Aryans are needed because there can be no Aryan invasion without the Aryans. It is a case of the tail wagging the dog, but theology cannot exist without such ‘logic’. Scientists, however, had long ago dismissed the idea of the Aryan race. As far back as 1939, Sir Julian Huxley, one of the great biologists of the twentieth century had observed:

“In England and America the phrase ‘Aryan race’ has quite ceased to be used by writers with scientific knowledge, though it appears occasionally in political and propagandist literature…. In Germany, the idea of the ‘Aryan race’ received no more scientific support than in England. Nevertheless, it found able and very persistent literary advocates who made it appear very flattering to local vanity. It therefore steadily spread, fostered by special conditions.”

These ‘special conditions’ were the rise of Nazism in Germany and British imperial interests in India. Its perversion in Germany leading eventually to the Nazi horrors is well known. The fact that the British turned it into a political tool to make their rule acceptable to Indians is not generally known. A recent BBC report acknowledged as much (October 6, 2005):

“It [Aryan invasion theory] gave a historical precedent to justify the role and status of the British Raj, who could argue that they were transforming India for the better in the same way that the Aryans had done thousands of years earlier.”

That is to say, the British presented themselves as ‘new and improved Aryans’ that were in India only to complete the work left undone by their ancestors in the hoary past. This is how the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin put it in the House of Commons in 1929:

                Now, after ages, …the two branches of the great Aryan ancestry [Indians and the British] have again been brought together by Providence… By establishing British rule in India, God said to the British, “I have brought you and the Indians together after a long separation. …it is your duty to raise them to their own level as quickly as possible …brothers as you are…”

Preposterous as it sounds today, it was a ploy to create Indian elite loyal to the British rulers by flattering them as long lost brothers, now being uplifted from their degraded state. The ploy was so successful that English educated Indians continue to cling to this fiction long after the British themselves admitted to the fraud. While the British can live without their creation, their followers in the Indian history establishment cannot do without it. Their identity no less than their politics is bound up with it.

All this is a matter of record. Our historians don’t have to learn Sanskrit or study the Vedas to understand it. Yet they are curiously reluctant to expose such passages that bring their whole history into discredit. They loudly denounce the Nazi misuse of Aryan myth, but carefully avoid mentioning its British version. Worse, they continue to perpetuate it by resorting to various subterfuges. Thomas Trautman, the author of Aryans and British India makes no mention of these even while acknowledging the British effort to create an Indian identity through a concocted Aryan kinship. In his recent (2011) book India: Brief history of a civilization, he falls back on the Aryan migration (or invasion) with Sanskrit as a foreign import. He resorts to spurious arguments like the ‘rare’ depiction of the Aryan horse in Harappan archaeology to preserve the Vedic-Aryan, Dravidian-Harappa divide. (Why? Did those horses speak Sanskrit?)

When I presented some of this material at a workshop in the U.K., a member of the audience—not a historian—joked that these people who engaged in distortion on such a monumental scale should be called ‘distortians’ rather than historians. Historians in the audience did not find it funny.

The good news is that the Indian public is becoming wise to their deceptions and distortions though they continue to enjoy political patronage in India— like Porpola serving Karunanidhi and his party. In the U.S., these ‘distortian’ scholars are in a state of near panic and running to wealthy Indians for money with cries of “Sanskrit in danger if you don’t fund us.” Our response should be: “Sanskrit thrived for thousands of years long before any of you Indologists appeared on the planet. Vyasa, Valmiki, Bhasa, Kalidasa nor any of the great figures in the Sanskrit pantheon needed to go to you distortians or your blighted departments.”

Let them die a natural death. Support instead efforts like those by that dedicated lady Kamlesh Kapur who have no axes to grind. We need many more such people and many more such books. Our immediate need is a book along the same lines on Medieval India. How did the Indian Civilization survive while all others from Egypt to Iran and Buddhist Central Asia vanished under the onslaught of Islamic invasions. Will have more to say on this in a future posting.

SCHOLAR-MERCENARIES: MAX MULLER TO PARPOLA

SCHOLAR-MERCENARIES: MAX MULLER TO PARPOLA

Dr. N.S. Rajaram

FRIEDRICH MAX MULLER (1823-1900)

Many if not most educated Indians believe Germany to be the home of Vedic and Sanskrit scholarship. No less a person than former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee once greeted a visiting German delegation as coming from a country that had more Sanskrit scholars than India. This might have been just a polite diplomatic gesture, but a reflection of the high esteem in which German Sanskrit scholars are held in India.

The man responsible for this exalted image was not a German but an Englishman. FRIEDRICH MAX MULLER (1823-1900), though born in Germany, he spent nearly all of his adult life in England in the pay of the British East India company. Most of  his writings are in English.

He was born in Dassau, a nondescript town in Prussia, the son of Wilhem Muller, a songwriter some of whose songs (lieder) were set to music by the great composer Franz Schubert. His family was cultured but poor as was much of Prussia then.

He was said to be a gifted pianist who for a time considered becoming a concert pianist. This  would have been far from easy for he lived in the golden age of piano with pianists like Franz Liszt, Clara Schumann, Sigismond Thalberg and Anton Rubinstein. It was tough competition to say the least.

Whether his recognition of this challenge or genuine interest, it made him study India and Sanskrit, first in Leipzig and later in Paris with Emil Burnouf where he was helped also by Indian scholar Dwarakanath Tagore (Rabindranath’s grandfather). It was Burnouf who advised Max Muller to bring out an edition of the Rigveda. He knew that he would need a major sponsor for such a major project.

Recognizing this, he went to England to try his luck. There he was fortunate to come to the attention  of Baron von Bunsen, the Prussian Ambassador to England who had some scholarly interests. Bunsen introduced  him to Thomas Macaulay (above), a prominent member of the British establishment ruling India.After many vicissitudes, Macaulay found the money for MaxMuller’s project. But he was expected to produce an edition that would make the Hindus reject the Vedas and accept Christianity. Macaulay’s long-term plan was to convert India to Christianity. MaxMuller’s edition was supposed to help the missionaries in their program of conversion.

Max Muller agreed for he needed the  money. His many turns and  twists in his long and varied career must recognize this basic fact. His career ambition and his need for money. This is true of his religious as well as his political positions. He was no great admirer of Hinduism of his time, but he was not a devout Christian either. He was raised as a Lutheran, but became an Anglican when he moved to England and married an Englishwoman. He himself said he was a Vedantin, as was Schopenhauer. Shortly before his death, MaxMuller said of the Upanishads:

“They have been the solace of my life, and they shall be the solace of my death.”

He was also unwise in associating with the raging German nationalism of his time, which might have affected his comfortable career in England. So he was forced to repudiate his earlier statements about the Aryan nation and the German nationalism.

I mention these because there is a widespread notion that he was a racist and devout Christian. My reading is he was neither but took whatever stand his career needed at the moment..

 

He was emphatically not a racist, definite not anti-Semetic. His godfather was the great Jewish musician and composer FelixMendelssohn. In his obituary, he was described as a Vedantin.

His knowledge of Sanskrit has been exaggerated especially in India. One Indian scholar Nilakantha Goreh visited him at Oxford and greeted him in simple Sanskrit which Max Muller could not follow. Maharshi Dayananda Sarasvati said of his Sanskrit, he is like a toddler learning to walk.

This holds for Western scholars in general for their scholarship bears no resemblance to reality. Here is a point. Indians started  learning English around the same time Englishmen started learning Sanskrit. Many Indians have gained distinction as writers in English. There is not one Sanskrit  work by any Westerner that is worth  reading. MaxMuller acknowledged it in his letter to a Nepalese scholar. This no doubt was the reason why he never  visited India.

His main contribution was the 50 volume Sacred Books of the East (above) that he edited. Contrary to widespread belief, he did not translate the Vedas but only brought out an edition of the Rigveda with Sayana’s commentary.

For all his accomplishments he was not popular with his fellow scholars, who envied his celebrity and comparative prosperity while most of them were living in genteel poverty.

 

The following account in the Classic 11th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica gives an idea of  how he was seen by his contemporaries

 

Though undoubtedly a great scholar, Max Muller did not so much represent scholarship pure and simple as her hybrid types—the scholar-author and the scholar-courtier. In the former capacity, though manifesting little of the originality of genius, he rendered vast service by popularizing high truths among high minds [and the highly placed]. In his public and social character he represented Oriental studies with a brilliancy, and conferred upon them a distinction, which they had not previously enjoyed in Great Britain. There were drawbacks in both respects: the author was too prone to build upon insecure foundations, and the man of the world incurred censure for failings which may perhaps be best indicated by the remark that he seemed too much of a diplomatist.

To this we may add, a highly successful fund raiser. He was acquainted with most of the highly placed men and women of his time, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and several Indian princes. This made his critics charge, that he had an eye only for crowned heads. We can say he was a product of his time and made the best of the opportunities available to him

ASKO PARPOLA (1941- )
According to Parpola the Indus script and Harappan language are “most likely to have belonged to the Dravidian family”. This so-called Dravidian family soon became transformed into Old Tamil. Since the oldest Tamil known is no older than 2000 years, this leaves a gap of some 3000 years between the early Harappan seals and the proposed solution.

This is not the only problem. It fails to explain how this Tamil came to be employed in the region where Sanskritic languages have been in use for thousands of years. The explanation offered is that Tamil was widespread, but Tamil speaking Dravidians were forced to move south by the invading Aryans. This has been discredited but it has not dissuaded Parpola and Dravidian politicians from persisting with the argument.

This can be compared to claiming that inscriptions in Tamil Nadu are written in Punjabi.

Parpola too was rewarded for his enterprise with a cash  prize by the late Tamil Nadu chief minister Karunanidhi amounting to nearly $15,000. The news of this opened a Pandora’s Box, with several Eastern European scholars claiming they too could show the Harappan language to be Dravidian. Faced with such demands, Mr.Karunanidhi was forced to announce that the award would be given only every five years.

Parpola’s major contribution is the two-volume Corpus of Indus Seals, consisting of most (but not all) the seals hound so far. His book based on the assumption of proto-Dravidian (which has never existed) has no decipherment. It is best described as speculative anthropology. It seeks to read the mind of the original proto-Drividians supposedly displaced by the invading Aryans.

Where Max Muller enjoyed the friendship and patronage of diplomats, princes and potentates, Parpola and his ilk are lucky to have a few crumbs thrown at  them by local caste politicians.

                Asko Parpola received the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award for 2009 on June 23, 2010 at the World Classical Tamil Conference at Coimbatore. This has been Parpola’s main claim to fame.