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.

Friday, 6 November 2015

ICHR to map ancient Indian scientific achievements - Indian Express

ICHR to map ancient Indian scientific achievements

Q: In what could define the thrust of historical research under the NDA government, the Indian Council Of Historical Research (ICHR) has decided to pursue two new projects, including one on mapping the country’s scientific achievements starting from the Vedic era up to the 18th century.

A: The council, reconstituted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development nine months ago, met on September 23, when it also approved a proposal to map the history of environmental science in the country from ancient times to the modern era.

The ICHR will draft historians to study ancient literature — Vedas, Puranas, Dharmasastras, Artha Sastra, Vedanga Jyotisha, Rasasastra and Vastu Sastra — to trace the country’s achievements in astronomy, chemistry, cosmology, botany, ayurveda, architecture, aesthetics and military technology, among other technical and scientific disciplines.

“Early orientalists like Sir Monier Williams were surprised to see great advances of ancient Indians in the development of various disciplines of science and art. The development of Indian sciences had been continuous till our colonial beginnings. We also find amazing strides in the development of science in Pali literature — both Buddhist and Jain — and later in Persian literature and vernacular literatures,” ICHR chairman Y Sudershan Rao said in an email response to The Indian Express.
India’s achievements in science and technology have been in focus ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi used examples from the Mahabharata and Ramayana to illustrate the country’s scientific temperament in ancient times.

Rao said he was certain the new proposals will not ruffle any feathers. “I am speaking of objective history of the past. I don’t think any historian would have any reservations for these efforts of ICHR. However, I welcome any suggestions for the refinement or improvement of these projects. I welcome any constructive criticism for improvement of the themes and methodological approaches,” he said.
The council’s second project aims to map “the history of environmental consciousness in the country”, which is “very much evident in our ancient texts starting from the Vedas”. 

“It seems the ancient people were very cautious in preserving the environment even while they were planning to expand their economic activity to meet the demands of growing population. Today, it is the other way around. This project will trace the history of our effort in safeguarding the natural environment and strategies adopted for healthy living,” Rao said.

The ICHR’s aim is to finish the projects in three years. The council will constitute an expert committee, an advisory panel and a monitoring committee for each of the two proposals to finalise their implementation. While the council has not earmarked a budget for the ambitious projects, it wants to raise funds from external sources, in addition to regular grants from the government.
“The corporate, business houses and philanthropists may come forward to sponsor major research projects for general good of humanity and society,” Rao said. The ICHR’s annual allocation for 2015-16 is approximately Rs 19 crore, of which Rs 8 crore is allocated for research and fellowship grants.

Apart from the two proposals, the Council has also approved the translation of Dutch texts on Indian history, in addition to the ongoing translation of French sources.

Business Standard interview - Original Transcript

 Interview given to Business Standard.
Sir, you have been a target of a concerted campaign by a section of historians and academicians. The allegation against you is that you have been appointed to appropriate history to suit RSS’s notion of history. Even Amartya Sen had said that you have not done any worthwhile historical research. What do you have to say about it?

A : Prof Amartya Sen’s coin, ‘Argumentative Indian’, very well applies to the present generation of Indian intellectual class. Ancient Indian intellectual tradition was based on Tarka wherein two discussants would put forth before the assembly of scholars what all they know about the contested topic supported by pramana. The merits and demerits of this intellectual exercise were assessed by the collegium and one would gracefully acknowledge the weakness of his proposition. The judgement was objective and impartial. You can take the example of Sankaracarya and Mandana Mishra where Mandana  Mishra’s wife was the judge. Mandana Mishra accepted his defeat, took to sanyasa  and became Sankara’s disciple. The present class of ‘argumentative intellectuals’ thrive by condemning others and their views. Their arguments mostly follow their political ideologues. The idea of ‘appropriating  history’ is generated from the idea of political aggrandizement. One becomes vocal and vociferous when he imagines a threat to his holding. Not being an ‘ Argumentative Indian’, I might have disappointed Prof Amartya Sen and the like. Their disillusionment is unbearable to them that they set aside minimum decency and courtesy to condemn the other without atleast knowing about him. However I thank them for showing interest in me and I take their comments in good stead for my introspection.

In one of the interviews, you have said that there was a need to look history from an Indian perspective. What is the problem with the Marxist or for that matter Western narrative or approach to historiography?  Why at all there is a need for an Indian perspective?

A: Your question itself says that we have been ‘looking’ at our history from the Western window. The post independent historiography till now is dominated by the Marxist thought. All our historical perspectives are based on the Western theories on society, economy and culture. We can easily identify the birth of these social theories in the ‘Enlightenment Era’ in Europe. These theories and understandings, are, thus, based on the European experience limited to a few centuries. Even if we apply empiricist methods of Social Sciences to the historical studies, the wider sample is always desirable. In such case, India offers a huge corpus of inscriptions, artefacts and monuments dating back to atleast 4 millennia. The much developed orature backed by continuous, well developed civilization, stable society, prosperous economy and diversified religious practices, profound knowledge systems and philosophies from times unknown must be more welcome for an unbiased historian to work on. Let us see history as it stands before us without using a coloured glass in the guise of ‘proper’ perspective.  General people believe that intellectuals would lead them to know what is/was real. We historians have greater responsibility than a general intellectual.

According to newspaper reports, there is an effort to push back the antiquity of the Vedas by some Vedic scholars.  Is ICHR associated with this project? What is your idea of the antiquity of the Vedas?

A: Vedic studies is not a recent phenomenon. The study of Vedas has been continuous since times much before our ‘historical’ period has begun. We need not try to ‘push’ its antiquity backwards. The efforts of dating Vedic literature by the Western scholars and English knowing Indian scholars are also known to us from atleast two centuries. In the pre-independence  period, the problem drew the attention of both Colonial and National intellectuals and in the post independent period the Marxist school took the brief from the Colonial and Imperialist school coming in the way of every sincere effort to find the truth. Not only archaeologists, many other scientists belonging to disciplines, geology, anthropology, astronomy etc have attempted in their ways to find the antiquity of ancient civilization in India. A scientist searching for truth must be open minded to accept what comes out in his research. The present trend of hypothetical research and trying to justify our own hypothesis does harm  historical studies. A historian should allow himself to be led by his data. He should not resort to select data to confirm his opinion. Marxist school starts with the assumption that the present is definitely better that the past. This determinism conditions the writing of history. While Marx could substantiate this linear progression with his understanding of European past, India offers a totally different picture where astonishing culture and civilization coexisted with uncivilized but cultured tribal life each thriving in peaceful coexistence. Civilisation too had several levels of  development simultaneously at several pockets. The same phenomenon still continues in India while the West has gone for a uniform pattern. These aspects of Indian life and culture offers great inspiration and scope to the present genre of historians to work on.

This move will bring back the debate on the Aryan invasion theory. What is your view on the Aryan invasion theory?

The fathers of this theory have denounced it after they realized during the Second World War that they burnt their fingers. But it was continued in Indian intellectual circles further for some years in the post independent era but they too had to moderate the theory as ‘Aryan Migration’. Colonial mind is  deeply entrenched in  Indian psyche that they some how want to keep it alive for purposes better known to them.

ICHR Projects: Native states

ICHR Projects: Native states 

ICHR has identified certain new areas in the ancient, medieval and modern periods of Indian History which have hitherto been paid no attention by the ICHR so far and very less attention was paid by individual scholars. The projects on history of Indian Science and Technology and Environmental history will be covering both ancient and late medieval times the project on Indian Princely States, another area which did not attract much attention by Indian scholars where as the western scholars are divided into two groups arguing for and against the Indian princes. Western scholars, like Barbara Ramusack, Ian Copland, Thomas R Metcalf, John McLeod, Manu Bhagawan, Waltraud Ernst and Biswamoy Pati, have attempted critical assessment of their role in the British period of Indian history. Some others tried to attract the lay readers with spicy tales about some princes.
There were about 565 princes by the time when the English withdrew from India. Most of them were very insignificant estates. But, almost one-third of India was under their direct rule. Surprisingly, most of them enjoyed respect and reverence of their peoples till the last and their influence was also felt much on their respective areas in the coming three general elections. Nawab of Bhopal said at one time that his people, most of them were Hindus, regarded him as a deity while his Muslim subjects though loved him had reservations. Most of the present works were mostly concerning about major states like Mysore, Hyderabad, Baroda, Bhopal. But, the other medium level states like Cooch Bihar, Travancore were not sufficiently focused. Some of them had survived many vicissitudes braving the rough tides for about a millennium. They strove to preserve, protect and keep alive, though playing at low key and handed down to us whatever we call it ‘Indian’ today. Most of ancient manuscripts can still be traced in the estate libraries.
The part of India under the Princes’ rule is quite justifiably referred to ‘Native India’ during the British period. But they were not considered sympathetically by the Colonial  writers and the Marxist analysts for obvious reasons. Surprisingly, the nationalistic scholars were also not sympathetic to them though most of these princes had attempted modern reforms –social, economic, educational, administrative and political- within their capabilities and resources.  In the post independent era, they disappeared unceremoniously and unwept.
This project covering those states which did not receive much attention of the scholars like Cooch Bihar in the first phase and the others in its second phase is approved in principle and the members of ICHR, Prof Nikhilesh Guha, Dr Saradindu, Prof Purabi Roy in association with other experts in the field will fine tune the project and place on the web-site for comments and suggestions very shortly.