Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Frontline's 'agenda' article on my term in ICHR - My respose

Frontline makes serious allegations in their article “A quiet invasion”,  Printed edition: July 21,2017.  My comments:
            The article in Frontline is basically intended to give a negative profile of the functioning of the ICHR during the period 2014-17 denouncing the policies and programs alleging that they promote “Hindutva”. The reporter had chosen some quotes out of context from my speeches at various places to legitimise their baseless accusation that the ICHR is pursuing the “Sangha” agenda. The reporter committed factual blunders in cooking up this story that ‘A Quiet Invasion’ is being attempted by the present team in ICHR under my Chairmanship.

·       In the present composition of the Council, the specialists in medieval history are adequately represented. Many specialised areas of study, like archaeology, art history, history of science technology, modern Indian history, are well represented. In all statutory and other academic sub committees. The reporter’s allegation that medieval history is neglected on communal lines is only prejudicial. Individual projects, seminars and fellowships are granted to various scholars from all fields without discrimination. These facts can be verified from the ICHR website, Annual Reports and periodical Newsletters.

·      An allegation was made that I got some photos removed, such as “Tantia Tope, Rani Laxmi Bai, and Bahadur Shah Zafar”, from the exhibition organised in connection with 150 years of the First War of Independence which was held some ten years ago i.e., in 2007. I assumed office in 2014, several years after the exhibition. ICHR doesn’t have any photo gallery for regular exhibitions or thematic presentations. Usually, when an event is celebrated, some photographs relevant to the subject will be organised in one of the small office rooms of the Council for display, and after a week or so these photos will be packed and safely placed in the store room. Even if it is alleged that I got them removed after I became Chairman, why should I remove the photos of those three while allowing all the others to stay? In fact, I have no first-hand knowledge of the exhibition, which had happened some seven years ago. On my enquiry I am told that all the exhibits are packed and preserved in the store. They are not art pieces. They are just pictures of old photographs.
Furthermore, if I truly had the ‘communal’ agenda she claims I have, why would I remove Tantia Tope and Rani Lakshmi Bai’s pictures? This allegation falls apart with the slightest thought, since one will notice the inconsistency between her allegation and the evidence she gives.

·        Another allegation is that I delayed the publication of the Volumes of Dictionary of Martyrs just because 35% of the martyrs were Muslims in the 1857 Movement. The project of the Dictionary was granted to the ICHR in 2007 to mark 150 years of the Great Rebellion, later known as the First War of Indian Independence.  During my term alone, the project has released 2 volumes over a period of 3 years and reached completion, while before my tenure, only 3 volumes were released over a period of 7 years. The funds for this project were very kindly granted by Department of Culture. The ICHR has also submitted a proposal to the Department of Culture to consider the extension of this project to cover post -1947 topics, up until total accession took place with the withdrawal of the French and Portuguese from India, which is in active consideration by the Government. This only shows the ICHR’s commitment towards the project during my term. In contrary to her accusation that I have delayed the project, I have actually accelerated it. The journalist was so eager to interpret this in a communal light to fit her magazine’s theme that she jumped to conclusions without verifying the facts.

·        Another baseless allegation is that the present Council has scuttled the “Towards Freedom” project. I am greatly surprised to see that the accusing finger is pointed at me. This project was envisaged even before the ICHR was born. From then till now it is still alive, outliving many Chairmen and Chief Editors and Coordinators. Many committees consisting of ‘eminent historians’ were constituted and replaced. The Project enjoyed many privileges, for example, its committees and editors are independent of the Council to prepare the print copy and forward it to Oxford for printing and publication, without any reference to the Council, its officials, the Member Secretary, or even the Chairman. Even the Council, it seems, has no authority according to the committee to verify or review what is written and what passes as an ICHR publication. So the ICHR does not have any knowledge of what is going on with the project except for the fact that the expenditure is borne by it. During my term, since this project was also moving at a snail’s pace and I wished to speed it up, I decided to keep a closer eye on the proceedings of the publications and so I asked to see the volumes before they are sent for printing. I received only one volume from its coordinator, Prof Arjun Dev. After vetting, the volume, it is referred to its Chief Editor, Prof Sabysachi Bhattacharya for his comments and recommendation to forward the project for publication. It is lying with him since then. The ICHR has yet to receive his recommendation, which is the cause for the delay. While this is a fact, allegations are still made by individuals and the media that publication is being stalled by the present body. Even the Indian History Congress (IHC) in its annual session in 2016 held at Trivendram had passed a resolution condemning the ICHR for the lapse. They could have had it verified with the Chief Editor, an ‘eminent historian’, who I am told was also present at the Congress. The ICHR, however, has not received a copy of the resolution by the IHC even after six months, for us to respond.

·      Another baseless allegation is that IHC has not been given ‘priority allocation’ for holding the annual conference and to publish its proceedings. IHC was never denied subsidies for holding the conferences and publishing the proceedings. In fact it is getting higher allocations than other organisations. The sanctions were made when the procedures stipulated in the RFR were followed. Most of the RFR organisers were very important functionaries during the previous terms. If there was any procedural delay, they should be very well aware why the release of funds was delayed since it was the functionaries themselves who made the rules.

·      There was another allegation that The Aligarh Historians Society was denied funds for holding its annual conference in Thiruvananthapuram. It may be one among many organisations, which could not be provided funds because of the limited resources of the Council. It greatly surprises me that a small, local organisation such as the Aligarh Historians Society, always plans to hold its events in far away places alongside or as part of the IHC with the same venue, dates, and timings, but still expects separate funds from the ICHR.

·      All the projects and academic programs conducted during the term received lot of appreciation from the specialists and general intelligentsia. There are many positive comments in the media condemning the false case pitched against me through this article in Frontline.

My personal but considered views expressed on historical developments and thoughts at various occasions are my own, and they have no reflections on the ICHR or Govt of India. A section of the media (both print and electronic) have consistently attempted to project me a ‘nationalist’ and ‘Hindu’ in a negative sense to condemn me as communal. But I have always definitely been a nationalist and Hindu in a positive sense. I can’t help it otherwise. I only spoke the truth on all the occasions mentioned by the reporter and I stand by my word.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Welcome address to the 3 day national seminar by ICHR on Antiquity, Continuity and development of civilisation and culture in Bharat

I heartily welcome you all to this gracious function to celebrate ICHR’s 45th Foundation Day. On such occasions, ICHR usually organises a lecture by a distinguished scholar. During the first year of my three-year tenure, I had the honour of inviting Dr David Frawley, USA (Pandit Vamadeva Sastry ji) to deliver the prestigious lecture. In his scholarly lecture he drew our attention to the Vedic literature and explained how rich it is with historical content. Last year, we invited a distinguished professor, Dr Satish Chandra Mittal who presented an excellent exposition critiquing Indian historiography. This year, ICHR proposed to have a 3-day national seminar keeping in view of the sincere calls of these two eminent scholars who stressed the need for a fresh look on our sources of ancient history and to revisit our history narratives in colonial and post-colonial times. Further, we take this opportunity to take a step forward in this seminar attempting a critical assessment of the latest research finds in historical, geological, linguistic and other allied disciplines so that we can correct, reaffirm and update our knowledge about our past, both recent and remote.

Before archaeology has emerged as a science, Indian history writing was solely dependent on literary sources. Indian archaeology began in the second half of 19thcentury as an amateur subject. It took about a century to grow as a scientific discipline. Organised archaeological exploration on scientific lines has started mostly after we became politically independent. After Harappa was found, the highly developed civilization was dated to about 4th millennium BP (Before Present). Some Indian scholars argue that it was deliberately dated posterior to Assyrian and Babylonian civilisations.  We are also aware that many issues came up with the identity of the founders of the most ancient Indian civilization by the non-Indian archaeologists of the British times.

On this auspicious occasion, I respectfully remember my pujya Guruji Mahamahopadyaya Dr. Sivananda Murty who used to say that ‘our future lies in our remote past, not the recent past’. We, Bharatiyas (Indians), are very fortunate to take pride in our remote past, which needs to be brought into light with the application of modern scientific tools evolved by the allied disciplines like archaeology, geology, anthropology, environmental science, remote sensing technology etc. Though most of these science subjects and their super specialties have their respective limitations, they can still be of great help to us to develop proper understanding of our ancient culture and civilisation.
The historicity of many events and personalities of so called ‘pre- historical’ ancient Bharat as known to us even today through its ancient literature - Vedas, Puranas, epics, kavyas etc – has yet to be proven to satisfy modern intellect. Our concepts of life, its goal, ways and means to achieve one’s goal and nation’s character are well described, preserved and conveyed to us through generations by our ancient oral and literary traditions. Unfortunately, we are not able to put it in a precise time frame through geographical locations of many an event are clearly indicated with traditional dating in our literature. This is the major problem relating to the dating of major happenings in India in its remote past.

Now, the main question before us is, what is this remote past? Was it entirely a savage and barbarian past as archaeology points out? Archaeology cannot take us back to more than 10,000 years for the transformation of the homo-sapiens to homo-fabers which witnessed the gradual evolution of civilisations and cultures at various places of world, whereas literary sources are pointing to indefinite periods beyond 10,000 BP (Before Present). We are not able to bridge the gap between these two types of sources.

The major questions arise here in the context of ancient Indian history. When we are sure that a high standard of urban civilization could be dated back to 6-7 millennia BP and recent excavations vouchsafe that urbanisation was widely prevalent in India, then why should we doubt the existence of the Vedas in an oral form from the same time period? Were both material and Vedic traditions developing simultaneously? If it is so, like the civilization, the Vedic literary tradition and knowledge systems might also be gradual developments. Can we trace the beginnings of these traditions, which have no parallels in the world? To what extent can we push back our historic antiquity?

When we look at our recent past of proto-historic and historic civilisations we have similar problems. Experts in the field state there occurred urbanization for the first time in India in about 7th millennium BP and  then the second urbanization only started around the 3rd millennium BP. There is a long gap between these two phases stretching over 2-3 thousand years. The knowledge of the first urbanisation washed out with the disappearance of River Saraswati and second urbanisation occurred in River Ganga plains. Many explanations are given for this historic gap.

This seminar is making an attempt to address the recent finds of researches in various allied disciplines and the problems and limitations of these disciplines, which are making serious efforts in delving into our past. Since 1920s, archaeological exploration activities have picked up speed. Scientific methods have been introduced and new methods and disciplines have been involved in this brisk activity. European and Indian archaeologists jointly and severally were taking up projects. In the post independent era, this archaeological research has gone entirely into the hands of Indian specialists. In the first phase, major projects were designed and executed by the experts mostly with governmental support.

A historian has to interpret and understand the objective finds from archaeological researches taking into account other collaborative evidences. All the sciences we are employing today also have their own limitations but under these limitations what best we can draw out of them is a historian’s job. How the projections of these results of archaeological and other scientific researches could throw light on our remote past is now lurking in the minds of all the experts assembled here. We have amidst us a father figure like Dr. BB Lal who is going to deliver a keynote address on recent developments in the proto-history archaeology.

We have received a good number of papers from allied disciplines by experts in their fields for this seminar. We intend to allot sufficient time to everyone for presentations and discussions.  That is why this seminar is planned for three days. I must say that I have no claim for the theme of the seminar. We have involved many experts from various disciplines who are dealing with varied topics in building a scientific and true history. Therefore, the explicit theme of this seminar is not one person’s idea or design. Every line has been chiseled by the respective experts.

The object of this scholarly endeavor of this three-day seminar backed up by at least two years constant consultations is to kick start a multi-disciplinary approach to understand the major problems in constructing the true ancient History of Bharat, presently called India. Many people have discussed these problems on many platforms but they still linger on because, like habits, psyches also die hard. It is no surprise that these predicaments would surely remain even after many such seminars.

This seminar has been planned to have five academic sections, history, archaeology, geology, literature and philosophy:

There is a session which is devoted to study historical perspective. Since the present genre of history has developed in the past two centuries, many assumptions were made by the early European historians without proper critical analysis and assessment of Indian literary and archaeological sources. The early European historians had no proper knowledge of ancient past of India and of Vedic literature. Most of them had not lived in India. Most of them were interested in their present and their interests in that particular present. In the modern times, our contemporary historians are applying social science theories, methodologies and techniques to historical studies. Is history a pure science? Is it a pure philosophy? Or is it about only politics? Or only a critique of social milieus?  In other disciplines like economics, sociology or political sciences there are many schools of thought and we are trying to apply them in historical research. If you think closely about how these schools came into existence in the past 100 or 150 years, we find that most of these schools are based on hypotheses or speculations. Their influences on historiography turns history a mere speculative social science. While arguing that history should be true to its original sources, the perspectives developed in presenting the past in the then contemporary light has become a far cry.  That is a major problem we are facing today. So much of literature has come up in history on so many aspects of the present time and looking into our past from the problems of the present. But history was not the same; society was not the same; and the economy was not the same in the past. So, the relevance of modern social science theories to historical research has to be examined carefully. We have with us a very distinguished international scholar and octogenarian, Prof Sivaji Singh to present a key-note address for this section who explains the heart of History. 

Another section is exclusively earmarked to deal with the major limitations of archaeological studies. Most archaeological discoveries were chance finds. An archaeologist might dig with an expectation, but end up finding something unexpected. An archaeologist is forced to accept what he finds irrespective of his hypothesis. Another major problem is with the dating and interpretation of the object. Many assumptions were made by the early archeologists, which have been deciding the destiny of our country’s history. This will be discussed in Dr B B Lal, the well-known Indian archaeologist’s, keynote address for the archaeology section.

Yet another important section and a major issue we have taken on is about the geological formations of India. We have 5 eminent scholars specialising in Geology. They are holding an exclusive section in this seminar. They will look into geological formations and how they influenced rise and fall of civilisations; how the rivers have been changing courses; how some of them disappeared and reappeared; and how the fluctuations in sea-levels changed the course of history on the coastal lines. In this seminar, the distinguished scholars in Geology who are currently working on the disappearance of the Saraswati River are presenting papers in that exclusive section. The keynote address of this section is being presented by a very eminent, internationally known geologist, Dr Valdiaji.

The fourth section of the seminar focuses on taking our culture back to ancient times and dating events in history based on astronomical data drawn from literary sources. Our team of experts are aware of the limitations in using astronomical data when writing history. Many historians have reservations in accepting the astronomical data, as it does not come anywhere close to archaeological findings or dating. Nonetheless, an event in history cannot be termed myth or imagination on the grounds of not being able to arrive precisely at an agreeable date from literary source. The events described in literary sources deserve consideration rather than being stroked off as a myth.

This section is devoted to discussion on the specificities of Linguistics and Literature and also on their limitations. Languages and vernaculars transform over time. For example, the vernaculars spoken in India currently are only 1000 years old, but a different set of local languages was there some 2000 years ago. Specialists have to look into developments and draw connections. Unfortunately, some judgments have been made by European scholars about our history with limited knowledge of our linguistics. Europeans started making judgments based on their own knowledge of Greek, Latin and then drew a few analogies to the newly learnt Sanskrit. They concluded that there are commonalities in all these languages so they are contemporary languages and therefore contemporary civilisations. If they are all contemporary ancient languages and civilisations then why don’t we have literature in those languages as old as the Vedic literature? Since we have never looked into this from the Indian point of view, we are accepting their theories dating Sanskrit as 2000-2500 years old, and that Sanskrit has come from the earlier Prakrit. We accepted this theory by the West that linguistic development happened in a linear progression. The course of languages has to be tracked carefully with open mind.

Now, looking at literary sources like Rig Veda and other Vedas to build a chronology and periodisation of history one encounters with a few limitations. Which part of the Vedas came first? Who wrote it and how many Rishis were involved? What were the times of those Rishis? Were all of them contemporary? What are their lineages? Many seminars were held and many theories were made but the answers are eluding our search. We have a list of lineages of sages and Kings in ancient history. When we look closely at the approximate reigns of kings in each dynasty, how can we strike accurate averages to their reigns? It is very difficult to work out the reigning times of the kings by just having a list of kings on hand. We have invited Dr David Frawley (Pt Vamadeva Sastry, USA) a renowned Vedic scholar to present a keynote address for this section.

The fifth most important section of the seminar is the continuity of philosophical thought from Vedic literature down to Buddhist literature. This section is led by a very eminent international scholar and thinker, Prof S R Bhat, Chairman ICPR. He will be speaking on the continuity of philosophical thought in Bharat right from the Vedic times through to the Buddha. While Jains claim contemporaneity with Vedic tradition, the Jain thought shares much from the Vedic and vice versa. A careful study of ancient philosophical thought would reveal that the basics of the tradition is still seen and practiced in Bharat.

These are the major questions before us. We have all these distinguished scholars here to deal with these major issues in writing our history. This seminar is only a beginning to find solutions to the major problems in writing history of our ancient past. ICHR should continue to work on these particular issues to establish history of our remote past. For the present, our objective is to examine whether there was continuous development in all aspects from 7th millennium to 2nd millennium. The recent finds suggest that there is a linkage between these civilisations and it was a surely continuous civilisation for at least past 5000 years, archaeologically proven.

I am very happy to receive prompt and positive responses from the distinguished specialists in history and its allied fields. We expect that the scholars attending this seminar may be raising some key questions in each special section requiring some intensive workshops for further discussion as follow up action.

Finally, I humbly acknowledge my irredeemable debt to my Guruji Mahamahopadya Dr. Sivananda Murty for my understanding of ancient Bharat
I thank you, one and all.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Valedictory speech at the Three day ICHR seminar on Antiquity, Continuity and development of Civilisation and Culture of Bharat

Here is my Valedictory speech at the concluding session to the Three day ICHR seminar on Antiquity, Continuity and development of civilisation and culture of Bharat (India) upto 1st millennium B.C.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Convocation address at the University of Gour Banga, West Bengal.

Convocation Address
(16 March 2017)

His Excellency the Governor  and the Honourable Chancellor of this prestigious Institution of Higher Learnening, Shri Keshari Nath Tripathi ji, respected Vice Chancellor Professor Gopalchandra Misraji, illustrious recipients of the degrees of D. Litt and D. Sc (honoris causa), Sri Dwijen Mukherjee, Dr Pranab Ray, Mahan Mj, and Professor Amitava Raychaudhuri, distinguished members of the University Court and Executive Council of the University of Gour Banga, my dear faculty members, administrative staff of the University, eminent guests,  parents, and young recipients of various degrees, media- electronic and print and Ladies and Gentlemen.
Indeed, I deem it a special honour done to me in asking me to present this ceremonial address to this august assembly of distinguished scholars and public luminaries – present and future - on the occasion of the second Snaathakotsav. I am grateful to His Excellency Shri Keshari Nath Tripathi ji,  Hon’ble Vice Chancellor Prof Misra ji and the University Court and Executive Council for inviting me to share this jubilant mood with all of you. This pleasant occasion takes all elders in this assembly back in times to become nostalgic of their times.
However, on such occasions, our attention is generally drawn towards our education system. One of the most discussed subjects by the modern intellectuals in India after the ‘politics’ is education system. Perhaps, no where in the world, it is so. The master nations developed the modern system from late medieval times in Europe and imposed the same on their colonies.
Our elders say that education makes a man civil and human. Character-building is considered the main object of the system.  Our system goes a step further. It aims to spiritual accomplishments. Therefore, we nurtured both apara (worldly) and para (non-worldly) systems in our education. India has a rich knowledge tradition. The English records vouchsafe the existence of pathasalas (schools) in the towns and villages where general education was taught by private teachers supported by parents. Sanskrit, vernaculars, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, astrology etc were taught. Literature philosophy and other sastras were taught in gurukuls.
Till the mid nineteenth century, our native system which was not disturbed or ‘reformed’ since times immemorial continued to stay. The ‘new’ education replacing the ‘old’ alienated the natives from their traditional education. We are made strangers in our own country. The ‘new’ education was introduced in India in an alien alphabet and the object of the ‘new’ system was to prepare the youth to serve in the British Government offices at lower grades. The damage caused to Indian knowledge systems was soon realised by our scholar-leaders of 19th century. This pious land, Banga, played cradle for the Indian renaissance movement which turned out to be the national movement later. Let us hope that the upcoming generations of this land take lead in recovering what we lost in our ancient culture and wisdom.
Our leaders of the national movement have through out been conscious that the British system of education should be reformed in such a way that the objects of both systems are achieved by designing a hybrid one considering the inevitability of continuing modern system as the basic structure. What stirred the Indian intelligentsia for freedom was primarily to restore our ancient knowledge systems. Towards the close of the freedom struggle, many such models were designed and proposed with an intention that the emerging free nation could adopt it with a finest amalgam of both tradition and modernity. But so far we failed them in their aspirations with regard to our eduction. After the independence, many commissions on education were constituted from time to time from Sri Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Commission onwards, but even after seven decades of Indian independence the efforts are on to look for a ‘New Education Policy’
We need a system which enables every young one passing out in flying colours from the university examinations to be free from anxiety about his future career in a congenial civil atmosphere. The nation should be assured that the system is shaping the future world with disciplined ‘human’ beings.
Well, coming to the present, the convocation was given greater significance in the ancient system known as ‘snaatakotsav’ which is conducted by the teacher after completing a course of study only when teacher was sure that the student has mastered the course. He was presented before scholars of repute for examination. After he passes the examination he is prepared and decorated like a ‘groom’ and profusely blessed. There was a practice that the teacher used to visit his disciple every now and then to make himself sure that the disciple has not forgotten what he was taught. That was the care taken for the wards by the teachers. Those who are passing out from this university should continue association with their alma mater to refresh or update their knowledge when an occasion arises.
Our universities have increased in number, serving the cause of higher education in remote areas. We must congratulate and appreciate the services of faculties working in such areas. We should take care that quantity should not allow the quality to drop. The alumni has a great role to play in fine-tuning the syllabi, guiding the students and providing them exposure to outside world. The latest developments in their respective fields may be introduced to the students maintaining good relations with the faculty. That makes the university campus lively and dynamic.
In fact, university does not mean mere concrete structures. Monastic centres of education in India sprang up with Buddhism. Earlier, there were education towns like Varanasi or Takshila where gurus and their shishyas used to live in hundreds, nay, in thousands. Those cities were only conglomerations of individual houses.
Our modern education is seldom providing instruction in all disciplines. Now the technological courses are ruling the psyche. As modern man has become multidimensional, the society needs knowledge and technologies based on various sciences and humanities. Therefore, we should aim at an all round development of knowledge. The government should plan for the courses and provide instructions keeping in view the requirements of human resources in each field. This would help reduce unemployment and facilitate fair distribution of opportunities among the youth.
As I understand that this region has long and rich history dating back to puranic times. This part of India is known from epic times with illustrious civilisational developments as recorded in history. We should establish and strengthen the link between the past and present. We should see that young minds develop respect for the past wisdom through our education. The historical tradition has to be established so that we are not cut off from our own origins.
This region was known for its educational institutions of higher learning till late medieval times. Rich libraries attached to internationally known centres of higher learning of this region were famous far and wide. Now it is heartening to note that it is recovering. I congratulate all the recipients of various degrees who put their maximum efforts to complete their education against many odds. I wish them to succeed in their careers and life as glowingly as they are passing out of the university ramparts now. Wishing them once again all the best and hoping to see at least a few of them to sit on this side of luminaries receiving Doctarates Honoris Causa making all of us feel proud.  
Thanking you, one and all,
Jai Hind.
Y Sudershan Rao, Ph.D.,
Professor of History (Rtd)
Indian Council of Historical Research,
New Delhi – 1100001
Camp : Malda (W B)
16 March 2017

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Chief Guest Message- National Conference on Iconography of the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains

A speech delivered as a chief guest at the inaugural session at a National Conference on the Iconography of Hindus,Buddhists and Jains on January 8, 2016.

Art history is history with a difference. While the modern genre of history is considered more of a science dealing with the material world, Art history takes one to abstract heights, into a different realm. Art history is the finest amalgam of both science and art. Among various forms of art, iconography needs a special mention. An ‘icon’ is a clear symbol of a concept or a phenomenon. 

Especially Hindu iconography has evolved purely out of the cosmological, philosophical and metaphysical knowledge that have emerged from the Vedas. Therefore Hindu iconology is considered Veda (the knowledge) by itself. The Veda in a literal form gives a graphic description of the cosmic phenomenon whereas the iconography presents a visual description of the same phenomenon. The iconography is thus meant to convey the abstract, subjective truths realized by the philosopher or Rishi, to the common man. Thus, Hindu iconography since times immemorial has been inseparably associated with the spiritual pursuit and elevation of the people in this culture.

In India, the earliest icons, dating back five millennia, clearly convey such philosophical and metaphysical concepts. The images of the Yogi and the Dancing Girl from Harappan times reveal the secret of their transcending link with spirituality. Vedic background of Hindu iconology is quite evident in the development of the science of Art in the later phase of Vedic period. The figurines of gods and goddesses in metal or stone are designed according to the dhyana slokas adopted from the Veda. The dhyana slokas are literary descriptions of the godheads.  Thus, Hindu icons are not idols or mere art pieces. 

Aesthetics are added to the science of this art, probably after Harappan times, to please the eye as the civilization matured. The relevant sastras, sutras and other scientific literatures came up in the course of time. Considerable scientific and mathematical applications (such as Iconometry) are involved in the making of divine icons as intrinsic as the yagna vedikas according to Vedic injunctions. In Hindu iconology, the base of art is science, which in turn is based on the Vedic knowledge. Its aim is spirituality. This could be found as a general characteristic feature of all Hindu classical forms of Art. 

The nature of Indian (Hindu) Art is transcendental, from matter to non-matter. Music, dance, painting, sculpture, poetry etc., are treated equivalent to dhyana, tapas and yoga for realizing the Ultimate. The Hindu iconography is placed on a high pedestal among all other forms as a path of realisation of Self not only for the artist but also for those who are attracted to his piece of art and meditate on its form. This has become a popular form of Hindu worship within reach of the common man. 

The icon, though it is in human form, should not be treated as a mere idol. The iconic worship is directed to a cosmic phenomenon. Others may understand this as idol worship. Common practitioners of Hinduism must also be educated to know what icons mean in their religious practices. We need authoritative and simple popular writings to familiarise people with the significance of Hindu Iconography.   In this regard, I can cite one such effort by Pandit Rama Ramanuja Achari’s recent work, Hindu Iconology (Simha Publications, 2015).

Hindu iconography, besides depicting the tattvas of divine manifestations, includes the symbolic representation of mythological legends like avataras, cosmic phenomenon like Manthan, Puranic stories, events and personalities etc. In all these depictions, the spiritual underpinning is found prominent.  The Hindu iconology has influenced the art of later religions like Jainism and Buddhism.

Therefore, the Hindu Art historian shoulders great responsibility while interpreting an icon to the general readership. He has to be well acquainted with the traditional scholarship. John F Mosteller reiterates the significance of ancient texts for interpreting a piece of art in the Indian context. (Mosteller, The Future of Indian Art History, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 109, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1989, pp. 597-602). 

 I am glad that very distinguished scholars of Hindu Iconography have graced this Seminar, to share their rich understanding on this special and intricate subject of Indian Art with all of us. I earnestly hope that this seminar would remain a prominent milestone in the history of Indian traditional art. 

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Keynote address given at S V University on Secularism, 5th of December 2015

Secularism – Conceptual and Historical Analysis in Indian Context- speech in Telugu

Keynote address delivered at a seminar on 'Secularism – Conceptual and Historical Analysis in Indian Context', Sri Venkateshwara University, Tirupathi on 4th of Dec 2015.

"Towards Indian Knowledge Society"

“Towards Indian Knowledge Society


        The traditional Indian knowledge system has been gradually replaced by the modern western system during the colonial phase to suit the needs of the then governance. While the national consciousness was evolving, the then national leaders had attempted to think about the feasibility of a hybrid system clubbing amenable features of both the systems. In the post independent era, several commissions have examined various alternatives to resolve the issue starting from Sri Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Commission. Very few later commissions like that of Kothari’s have tried their best to touch the crux of the Indian education problem. However, all of those efforts failed to deliver goods to the common man specifically in   providing:

A) Quality general education along with job training up to class 12, 
B) Securing excellence in higher education, covering entire population, and
C) Removing the alarming disparities between private and public schools in teaching standards, physical facilities and amenities.

        Our approaches so far have been selective and target oriented. Even after five decades of our native governance, the gaps among the different strata of the society are widening, defying our efforts to bridge them. Any democratic governance should generally aim at providing all people with quality education and health in a proper atmosphere and hygienic conditions without any discrimination. 


A). General Education: 
        Standard Mass Education Programme (SMEP): Replacing the present compulsory free primary education program and selective approaches for Model schools, there should be free Government Boarding Schools at the Taluks and sub-Taluks, as the case may be with all modern physical facilities providing general education with vocational training in any one or two trades of child’s choice through out his/her schooling. 

        The curriculum could be designed taking the best of both worlds - traditional and modern. Every child in the country will pass out of the school at the age of about 18 yrs as a well informed, responsible and vocationally trained citizen. The teachers of these schools should be recruited allowing about 20-30 foreign trained teachers, in whose association Indian teachers would also benefit. The teachers should be given continuous support in their professional development to consistently and equilably deliver high quality instructions to each child, regardless of their circumstances and abilities. 

        The Indian Government can tie up with the international Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to benefit from their research comparing education philosophy and achievements across varied institutional systems and cultures.
If the Centre provides infrastructure, the States could meet recurring expenditure. In about 20 years, India will emerge as a Knowledge Society. 

B) Higher Education: 
        National Institutes and Research Centers with a deemed University status should come up in each region for every basic discipline such as Sciences, Technologies, Humanities, Social Sciences etc. 

        These unitary institutes should be established along with all the sub-disciplines or specialisations of one major discipline for teaching and research. The senior faculty has to be invited to teach and guide in these specialised Institutes from Institutes of repute across the globe. These institutions would emerge as lead Centers of Excellence in a particular subject. 

        The students will have the freedom to choose their credit courses from any such institute before passing out of their parent institute at the end of three/ five years of graduate or post-graduate studies as they choose and join the relevant Institute for research in the chosen field. This specialist approach in the field of higher education will benefit the discipline concerned to a great extent, besides building a strong academic community.

C) Disparities between Government schools and Private schools:

        There is an unedifying divide between Government schools and private schools in areas such as education and sports facilities. This has to be narrowed down with concerted, collaborative and coordinated action between the two sectors. Government can ask private schools to help state schools by lending teaching staff and sharing their sports and other physical facilities for a few years while the government upgrades its facilities. The Government can provide high quality, online bite sized lessons, with associated activities, ideas and worksheets, for children aged 5 to 16 covering all of the curriculum on its website for the benefit of teachers, students and parents. 

Monday, 4 January 2016

Interview given to Sobhana K Nair, Mumbai Mirror on 30th of December 2015

Interview given to Sobhana K Nair, Mumbai Mirror on 30th of December 2015

Q) Why do you say that Akhanda Bharath is a cultural concept and not
political. Could you please elucidate further.

A) In fact, Bharathkhand is a Puranic geographic term. When looked at etymologically,
Bharath denotes ‘Light’ that is Jnana. The process of ‘realisation of
soul’ is described as transition from darkness to Light. The Knowledge
and the Process (sadhana) through which the realisation can be
attained form the basis of the Bharath culture. Ancient Indian
literature –Vedic and non-Vedic, Sanskrit and others- unanimously
subscribe to the ultimate goal of man and suggest a process to achieve
it through variety of ritual (religious) or non-ritual practices like
yoga, tapas, etc. Many religions and Darshanas sprouted from this
culture. Therefore, Bharath  is a unique cultural denomination with a
strong secular import. 

Q) Historically, at any point, are you of the opinion that Akhanda
Bharath existed?

A)  ‘Akhand’ is a recent prefix necessitated during freedom struggle of
India to prevent the division of country on communal lines. In India,
religion had never been the basis for forming political units. Neither
any religion nor politics united the entire sub-continent. Only the
culture based on secular Dharma served as unifying force. The learned
freedom fighters, nationalistic spiritual masters and social reformers
during freedom struggle advocated for the unity of people based on
secular Bharath Culture. But the political interests overpowered the cultural
ethos in 1947. Nevertheless, the nature of Bharath culture, inclusiveness, stayed deeply rooted in Indians. That is why, a Bharateeya/Indian yearns for Akhanda Bharath. If the politics
are moderated, economic and cultural integration is quite possible and
facilitates the SARC countries emerging as a strong consortium.

Q) As ICHR chairperson will you be undertaking any project on the issue? 
A) It is the Council that decides on research projects.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Comment given to Indian Express on 29th of Nov 2015

Here is the comment given to indian express on 29th of Nov 2015

The ICHR reviews the Research Funding Rules from time to time. This is a routine exercise. A committee of the heads of relevant sections and the RPC would review the rules and recommend amendments to the Council for approval.

Q.   Why the exception in case of additional funding for the annual conference of Indian History Congress been removed in the new funding rules? 

A:    Under my Chairmanship, the Council has ended the discrimination shown in the grants to professional organisations. Earlier, the Indian History Congress enjoyed special status. Annually IHC was granted money over and above ceiling for hosting its annual conference. Lump sum amounts and additional grants were also paid separately for holding panel discussions, symposia and other academic programs as part of the conference. The ICHR also reimbursed for travel of the foreign delegates to the Congress. We have corrected this anomaly. Only the previous Councils can do justice to this question as to why IHC has to be granted a special status over other organisations in this huge democratic country.

Comment given to Deccan Herald on 30 th Nov 2015

ICHR has given a special status to IHC for past couple of decades by granting money for hosting its annual conference, which always exceeds the ceiling. In addition to this lump sum, large amounts were paid for holding panel discussions, symposia and travel reimbursements for foreign delegates attending the conference. Earlier, if my memory is correct, IHC was not depending on the Government or its institutions for financial assistance. If I am right, it did start only with Warangal session when Prof Irfan Habib was the Chairman. I am subject to correction. I agree that it is one of the oldest and most reputed bodies of Historians but over time many other South East Asian, national, regional and thematic organisations have come up. ICHR being a government body cannot make discriminations by giving a particular organisation a special status and ignore the rest of the organisations in a democratic country. Until now, ICHR has not attempted to prepare guidelines for assessing each organisation when considering for grants. We are also planning to convene a meeting with the representatives of registered organisations to work out parameters to accord financial help (you can see this on the ICHR website). The rationale for sanctioning grants to hold annual conferences of the professional bodies has to be worked out.