what you think of this ?
by Francois Gautier
This book does not pretend to be a historical treaty, neither on India, nor on other civilisations; it only fleetingly uses events and people, in an attempt to go beyond the superficial views that have usually been held on India by many historians.
Many historical books have been written about the greatness of India's past. One of these books is of course A.L. Basham's classic, "The Wonder that WAS India". While there is no doubt that Mr Basham's book is a scholarly treatise, beautifully written, which casts a sympathetic and benevolent look at what he feels WERE some of the wonders of a bygone India, my book differs totally from his for many reasons.
Firstly, he erroneously takes as final the biased theory of an Aryan invasion, subjugating the Good Harappan (Dravidian) civilisation, a theory which I propose to dismantle in the next chapter. Then, like the majority of Western historians, he also post-dates most of the Vedic events - for then, their theory of, say Mohajan-daro being overrun by the Barbarian Aryans, would stand no more. Thirdly, although Mr Basham is full of praise for Indian (pre-Muslim) culture, art, language, sciences, village life, his views of Hinduism seem to be a little warped and reflect a strong Western bias. He appears to have absolutely no understanding of the greatness and importance of the Vedas, in which he sees only "a culture that bears a generic likeness to that of 'Beowulf', the earlier Icelandic sagas'...(nobody ever thought about that one)... 'and was somehow less advanced than that depicted in the Iliad"...! (page 34, Wonder That was India). To flout such an ignorance and contempt for India's culture and compare the visions of great sages who lived at least 5000 years ago, with the tales of the semi-barbarian Beowulf, is quite an achievement! Mr Basham also puts forward the eternal clichés propagated by Christian missionaries and "enlightened secularists" on the Indian caste system. "The Aryans anointed themselves the ruling class (= Brahmins and Kshatriyas), while the poor conquered Dravidians (Harappans), became the slaves, (= Vaishyas and Shudras)". Or: "As they settled among darker aboriginals, the Aryans seem to have laid greater stress than before on purity of blood - and thus class divisions hardened..." (36, Wonder that was India). Or else this monstrosity: "...In the Vedic period, a situation arose rather like that prevailing in South Africa today, with a dominant fair minority, striving to maintain its purity and its supremacy over a darker majority"... (138, Wonder). Poor India, being granted the honour by Mr Basham, of being the founding father of racism! But it is thus that Mr Basham lays the ground for his later theories on what he calls 'Hindu imperialism'.
He also seems to miss completely the point, when he talks about Indian polity, or politics rather (always pre-Muslim of course). He sees Hindu kingdoms and republics as "a hopelessly divided nation, inviting thereby future conquest by Muslims and Europeans", a theory which I will attempt later to show as completely false and misguided. But more than that, he implies that Hindus were a cruel and warlike (except for the goodie-goodie Ashoka, a convenient hero) nation, even going as far as suggesting that India's sacred writings were responsible for that militant trait. In his chapter on Hindu militarism (page 123, Wonder), he goes on to say: "In several passages of the Mahabarata, notably in the famous Bhagavat Gita, the evil and cruelty of war are referred to, and it is suggested that the life of a soldier is sinful one. But such arguments are only put forward to be demolished by counter-arguments, most of which are based on the necessities of this dark age of the world and on the dangers of anarchy. Positive condemnations of war are rare in Indian literature..."! Not only is this a rather contemptuous view of the Gita, one of the great books of spiritual Revelation in world literature, but it completely misses the point that the Gita makes, which is that when one has to fight the evil forces of the world, one is doing one's dharma and one goes beyond the pious Christian prejudices about war.
But perhaps the greatest flaw of his book, after having dared to come down so heavily on Hindu militarism, after having devoted a whole chapter (Punishment page 118) on Hindu cruelty, after having labelled the Indian monarchical system of "quasi-feudalism" (page 95 Wonder), is that Mr Basham is surprisingly lenient towards the Muslim invasions and very quickly skims over that terrible period, which is, as we will see later, a genocide unparalleled in history. It should suffice to quote Mr Basham without any comments: "Under the rule of some of the Delhi sultans of the Middle Ages, there was persecution, and Brahmans were put to death for practising their devotions in public (!); BUT IN GENERAL THE MUSLIMS WERE REASONABLY TOLERANT (p. 481 Wonder)"...!!!! Or else: "..The Muslim invasions and the enforced contact with new ideas did not have the fertilising effect upon Hindu culture which might have been expected" (???). Another one: "Hinduism was already very conservative when the lieutenants of Mohammed of Ghor conquered the Ganga valley. In the Middle Ages, for every tolerant and progressive teacher, there must have been hundreds of orthodox Brahmans, who looked upon themselves as the preservers of the immemorial Aryan Dharma against the barbarians who overran the holy land of Bharatavarsa.."(Wonder, 481-482) But don't you know, Dear Mr Basham, that the Muslims were proud of their bloody record in India, of their war in the name of Allah, and that they left numerous chronicles of the amount of Hindus they killed, and the number of temples they razed to the ground?. You say you are an historian, Sir; then get your facts right. Are you then implying, Mr Basham, that Hinduism, one of the most tolerant religions in the world, which historically not only accepted coexistence with all the world religions, but also recognised their divinity, pales in comparison with Islam, a creed, which whatever its greatness, killed tens, if not hundreds of millions, in the world, in the name of Allah and for which all non-Muslims are "Kafirs", infidels?
And last but not the least, Mr Basham credits the European invasion with the renaissance of India: "It was through the influence of Europe that revival came..." (Wonder 483). He also sanctifies the Christian missionary influence in India, which, though in a lesser degree than Islam, has been responsible for dividing this country and creating a small Hindu-hating westernised minority in India: "But early in the 19th century, the British evangelical conscience awakened to India and missions schools sprang-up in all the larger towns" (Wonder, 483). Does Mr Basham think then that the Muslims, the British and the missionaries were the greatest benefactors of India? He must be - as he is saying that it was the Western influence, through the British, which modernised Hinduism, influencing such movements as Ram Mohan Roy's Brahma Samaj. But he conveniently forgets that Hinduism has always been one of the most plastic religions in the world, from which sprang-up constantly hundreds of movements, all recognising the oneness of their source.
For this and for many other reasons, this book has not only nothing to do with Mr Basham's but you might well call it an antithesis.
Synopsis on inside of jacket
For most historians, whether Foreigners or Indians, India's greatness - if there is a Greatness at all - lies in its past, in the golden period of pre-Muslim conquests. Such for instance, is the theory of A.L. Basham's classic: 'the Wonder that was India'. But even that greatness, they often limit to a cultural, or else a spiritual grandeur. There also have been throughout the centuries, conscious attempts, particularly by Christian missionaries, and later by a few of India's own westernised elite, at propagating false theories on India's history, such as the famed Aryan invasion and its imposition on the "good" Dravidians of the hateful brahmanic caste system. Or the devious inference of a benevolent Muslim rule in India, which negates the immense Holocaust which the Arabs wrecked on the peninsula from the 7th century onwards. And most unfortunate, many of these theories have resulted in a wave -pre and post-independence- of denigration of the greatness which is Hinduism and a conscious attempt at stamping it out from Indian life today.
This book endeavours, not only to show that India was great in all respects, spiritually, socially, culturally and even politically, but also that this Greatness IS still there today, waiting to be manifested, waiting for India to awake to Her true destiny. However, India today is facing grave dangers, both from within and without. And it is only after recovering her true soul, recouping her Dharma, that she will become united again, the Greater India that she was centuries ago, and fulfil Her destiny as the spiritual leader of the world. For as Sri Aurobindo, India's great yogi, philosopher and revolutionary said: "It is in India, the chosen land that Truth is preserved; in the soul of India it sleeps expectant on that soul's awakening, the soul of India leonine, luminous, locked in the closed petals of the ancient lotus of love, strength and wisdom, not in her weak, soiled, transient and miserable externals. India alone can build the future of mankind (India's Rebirth, p.88)
About the Author
Francois Gautier, born in Paris in 1950, is a French journalist and writer, who is the political correspondent in India and South Asia for "Le Figaro", France's largest circulation newspaper. He is married to an Indian and has lived in India for the past 29 years, which has helped him to see through the usual cliches and prejudices on India, (to which he d for a long time), as most foreign (and sometimes, unfortunately, Indian) journalists, writers and historians do. He shuttles between Delhi and the international city of Auroville near Pondichery.