Saturday, May 1, 2010

Book on Ancient History of India by Kamlesh Kapur


 'Portraits of a Nation- History of Ancient Indi
a'

by Kamlesh Kapur


Review
by Dr S. Kalyanaraman.



Kamlesh Kapur should be complemented for her work on the history of Hindu civilization. 'Portraits of a Nation- History of Ancient India' by Kamlesh Kapur is an overarching portrayal of what India was in ancient times.  Giving a global context for the significant events during a time frame of around 6000 BCE to 1000 CE (Common Era), Kamlesh Kapur has highlighted the antiquity and the chronology of history of Bharat, that is India.


The book ISBN-978-81-207-5212-2 is soon to be released (May-June 2010) by Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd.


I will unhesitatingly recommend this work for every student, parent and teacher interested in the study of Hindu civilization. This book should be used in every school and held in every library and research institution interested in the study of ancient civilizations.


This book is a comprehensive overview of about 6000 years of India's history and is a laudable attempt to create an authentic narrative of India's past- significant events, achievements, milestones, upheavals and misfortunes.


This is a textbook and adheres to the standard format of the history textbooks.

Presented in a non invasionist model, this book attempts to reclaim the accurate chronology of Ancient Indian history and is meant for students and general readers alike.


For bringing all types of available evidence to knit the significant events of India's past, Mrs. Kapur has placed this monumental work on a pedestal that hitherto no compiler of Indian history has done. 

All of this material is taken from primary sources and from the research material prepared by historians while evaluating multiple sources.


In this book, concerted effort is made to emphasize events which left significant impact on the heritage of mankind and evolution of human civilization. Every attempt is made to reformulate historical information by dropping myths and assumptions used in the last three centuries. This narration attempts to reclaim the accurate chronology of Ancient Indian History.


Knitting the evidence from several different fields of disciplines, social and physical sciences, the book deals with the following issues:


The origin of early civilizations in the subcontinent,
The rise of Agrarian communities and industrialized urban centers,
The development of internal and external trade,
The role played by geography in the emergence of prosperous kingdoms,
The dispersal of people and the homogeneity of Indians over the past 10 millennia,
The role played by the mighty rivers such as Sarasvati river and Cauvery river in supporting prosperous people,
The creativity of the people all over the continent,
The scientific developments and discoveries which laid down the foundations of mankind's progress down the centuries.
Geographical contiguity and the continuity of Indian culture
How the genetic evidence corroborated with archaeological evidences and internal evidence of Vedic and post Vedic literature helped construct a non mythical account of Indian history?



The following quotes from two great scientists emphasize the point:


Albert Einstein: 'A theory must not contradict empirical facts.'1
In an interview with R.L. Shankland, Einstein said, 'Nearly all historians of science are philologists (read linguists)** and do not comprehend what physicists (also theorists of History)* were aiming at, how they thought and wrestled with these problems.' (Source: Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity' by Arthur Miller, 1981, Addison- Wesley)
Einstein's insight help us understand the political motives, colonial agendas and supremacist/racist ideas which were responsible for theorizing about the origin of Indian civilization outside India and thus misplacing ancestors of Indians to all impossible habitats except in India.


Dr. S. Metzenberg, while serving as an arbitrator on the California textbook revision issue said, "I've read the DNA research and there was no Aryan migration. I believe the hard evidence of DNA more than I believe historians."2


In his address to the Kerala History Association, Kochi on 18 Dec. 2005, Pres. of India, APJ Abdul Kalam said: "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. My observation is that in India many have written history of India 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. 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 21st century, we need new breed of historians who can make the past meet the present and create the future. With executive approach to study and use of history, a value-adding approach, we can surely develop capabilities as a nation to think strategically and create a glorious future. "


It is true that for chunks of time, data may be missing about the dynasties and the kings which cannot be filled with myths and guesswork. Doing so will reduce chronicles of history into works of fiction. Assumptions, theories and hypothesis are dropped. While narrating the events, the book does not lean on sociological- anthropological spins and Marxist interpretation of history. Instead, the readers are allowed to interpret the information using the primary sources which are surfacing almost continuously.


Wow history has been written on stone!!

One Rosetta stone was enough to establish the so called authentic account of Egyptian civilization and here Indians are surrounded by literally thousands of inscriptions of historical value; AND they are decipherable because the languages of the past survived through the oral tradition. Through this the literature of the past also survived.


Wow! History is preserved in the words of mother tongues. 

One is able to reconstruct the history of Panini's times just by interpreting the words Panini used in his monumental work, Ashthadhyayi, the astonishing grammatical work of unparalleled excellence and brilliance.


The study of the linguistic area of Bharatam is a challenge which has to be met by future researchers and students.


And all that have been ignored by those who wanted to construct a warped, oblique and paltry account of the past. This book helps students distinguish between scientific myths and Scientific and empirical data.


It is 2010 and so far the genetic evidence the pointers from natural history and the archaeological evidence have not been used to corroborate the literary accounts which has been staring at us. Interpreting, reinterpreting with a different set of assumptions each time is not going to affect the scientific evidence even one iota. This mounting evidence is pushed out of sight under the rug by casting doubts about the writers or by bringing issues extraneous to historical developments. Why is history a politically sensitive subject? Who is afraid of whom? More importantly, who is afraid of truth and why is Indian history dragged into the arena of political agendas?


Discussion of Indian culture, civilization and the Vedic Tradition in the global context the book presents strong evidence that the cultural tradition and civilizational contributions have not as much moved from the Near West to India as they have gone in the opposite direction. The book traces the emergence of Indus-Sarasvati (or Harappan) settlements along with other contemporaneous settlements in the Central and eastern India with the same cultural thread. All the evidence suggests that the industrially advanced phase of the Indus-Sarasvati civilizations was a material expression of that ancient oral culture that is known as Vedic Tradition. There is scant evidence that in the last 15000 years there was any intrusion of an immigrant/invasionist group which was of significant consequence.


Five chapters give the details of the key concepts, practices and beliefs of four religions of Indian origin and the process of assimilation. The book highlights the role played by philosophy of pluralism, acceptance, and understanding in creating a composite culture of unprecedented length of time. 


For the first time, the history of Southern India is given alongside the key events in Northern India.

Southern India in the ancient times was neither a mere footnote nor a victim of the aggressors from the north. It preserved the India's heritage both cultural and the civilizational in critical times when northern India was in turmoil and disaster. The architectural monuments of the stature of Hoysaleshwera and Brihdeshwera temples are not found in the central and northern India. What happened to the monuments in Northern India? It is not that these were not built. Kanishka, the Guptas, the Vardhanas and countless other monarchs in Punjab, Utter Pradesh, Bihar and central India built magnificent temples which have been mentioned in the literary accounts of the writers of those times. The relics and partially damaged statues of Deities have been found buried or in the nearby wells.


The history of India has been written and rewritten several times each time with a different context. Historical narratives act as a powerful vehicle of culture and tradition from generation to generation. Therefore it is essential to give an authentic narrative of India's past using all the new evidence which has surfaced through archaeological excavation in the Indus-Sarasvati region. 


Researches in the field of ecology, natural history and genetics have given us enough pointers enabling us to write a fairly accurate history of Ancient India. This book ties up all this new evidence with the internal evidence from the literary sources. Dropping up several theories and assumptions, it focuses attention on the contributions of Indian civilization and culture to mankind. It is a comprehensive work highlighting those historical events and developments which left significant impact on the heritage of mankind. 


Supplemented by numerous illustrations of ancient relics, inscriptions, maps and pictures, it makes an interesting reading.


Interpreting history

"The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down."

The vast literature of India narrates events of historical value. In the past several centuries, invaders and visitors came from all different countries. Some tourist such as Mangsthenese came from Greece. Searching for knowledge, Fa-hien and Hiuen-tsang came from China. The accounts of all these visitors/invaders tell us much about India of yester years. 


All through the ages, history of India has been written and rewritten several times- each time with a different context.  For example, the British wrote and interpreted historical events in the context of subjugation and colonialism. After the Second World War, Americans wrote Indian History in the context of Cold War with officially neutral India leaning towards Soviet Russia. 


After the collapse of Soviet Union, the context has shifted to Globalization with a new threat from world wide terrorist outfits.


In this way, historical accounts have been affected by these political developments. Historical narratives act as a powerful vehicle of culture and tradition from generation to generation shaping and defining the social identity.


Orwell wisely points out, ""Who controls the present controls the past. Who controls the past controls the future."


In the last three centuries historical accounts relating to Indian history were written by people from the departments of theology, social sciences and linguists. They had to overcome difficulties arising from the following factors:


Inadequate understanding of ancient languages of India such as, Sanskrita, Mleccha, Prakrit and Pali,
Dependence on the translators with inadequate understanding of the texts
Gaps in the narratives
Even many of the European historical accounts prior to 15th century were flawed, because these were based on erroneous ideas about the size, shape and position of the earth.
19th century 'race science' and colonial anthropological theories had a negative impact on the writing of Indian history,
Grasping the accounts with the help of European experience, these writers used large number of assumptions and gave us theories which are now untenable.


The need for a new book

There are many compilations already available on the subject, but most of them have been compiled from the perspective of non Indian experience. This book will correct this problem.


In the last seven decades a wealth of new information has been constantly coming from researchers and scholars belonging to different fields of knowledge.  Research in Physical sciences and Genetics, fossil studies, study of ecology in the ancient times have helped geologists, archaeologists, marine archaeologists and natural historians to bring forth valuable information about the origin and evolution of early civilizations, development of languages and cultures. History is no longer in the domain of social sciences.


The task ahead for the compilers of history books is: 

a.     To embrace all available evidence,
b. To evaluate and include all evidence resulting from the discoveries of non social scientists,
c. To treat the beginnings of human civilization as a part of natural history.
d. To drop inaccurate information based on assumptions, hypothesis and untenable theories,
e. To drop insignificant episodes,
f. To consider historical accuracy as the most important task and not political or ideological goals of those in power,
g. To examine, corroborate and interpret historical data with an intellectual honesty. 
h. To use new technology of satellite imaging and carbon dating methods to determine the age of the artifacts and satellite imaging.


 How this book was written to meet these new challenges


  In the past six decades, new archaeological, geological finds have surfaced, demanding revisions of earlier versions of Indian history. In the last one hundred years, a better understanding of the Vedas, Puranas, and other post Vedic texts has emerged. This literary evidence needs to be considered. Many historians, researchers and scholars from various disciplines are challenging the old hypothesis and exploding the old myths. This new evidence points to the fact that Rigveda- the oldest human document was created on the banks of River Sarasvati and in the Sapta Sindhu region. Extensive research has been done to evaluate internal evidence emerging from the Rig Veda itself.


Notes:

1 Source: Einstein Albert, Autobiographical Notes published in Albert Einstein- Philosopher, Scientist' by PA. Schipp, Evanston: Library of Living Philosophers, 1949
2 Dr. S. Metzenberg is an Assistant Prof. of Biology, California State University, Northridge (located in San Fernando Valley), Northridge CA 91330-8303
3 A. Whitney Brown - The Big Picture- publisher, Harper Collins




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