Reinterpreting the Values of Historical Studies

There is a dire need to rewrite Indian history to efface the subjectivity contained in the text books written by Marxist historians dominating in the Indian academia circles. But before taking this task of rewriting Indian history in an objective manner it would be better if Indian historians reevaluate the results which they expect from students studying Indian history.

Facts and figures vis-à-vis values and virtues

It is said chronology and geography are the two eyes of history and events in history occur and historic persons live in a certain period and in a specific location. Facts in history outside space-time framework is relegated as mythology and accorded a lesser status. At present writing history scientifically means constructing events out of archival materials or from evidences collected through archaeological excavations. One can document the rule of a chief minister of any Indian state by using archival material. This writing would be hundred percent scientific with zero error in facts and figures given. However is there anything to learn from this write-up; any moral values or virtues to be cultivated?  Contrast this with personalities like Nachiketha, Sri Rama, Ekalavya, Sri Sankaracharya, Sri Basaveshwara and Kabir who stood for ideals like truthfulness, filial devotion and egalitarianism. But for the reconstruction of the lives of these men we do not have source materials which can be termed as ‘scientific’.

But even historical concepts derived from following the scientific method, unlike science subjects does not give any tangible output (in the form of technology) but only facts and figures. Hence the first and foremost thing which Indian historians have to do is to take a stand as to what should be the end result of studying history, is it to get correct information on facts and figures or to get inspiration and development of virtues and culture. If it is to provide information on facts and figures we can continue the present method of writing history by using archival material. But if it is to cultivate values then we have to make a paradigm shift in both writing history and selecting the events, personalities and institutions to be included in our history books. Once if it is decided that the end product of historical studies is for the development of moral values and culture, we could include events/persons who would inspire us in the curriculum of historic studies even though if they do not fit in the space-time framework; the main criteria in scientific writing of history. The acts, facts and figures of the past could be then left to economists, statisticians and political scientists to deal with.

Antiquity vis-à-vis relevance

Indian historians have an obsession with antiquity, whether it is the date of the composition of the Vedas or the date of Mahabharatha war. Just because an event occurred or a person lived or a work was composed in times of antiquity, does its relevance in the present times makes any difference? On this aspect Indian historians have to take a stand. For instance the Manu Smirthi was composed many centuries before the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda was composed. But in terms of relevance the information contained in Swami Vivekananda’s work empowers the whole of mankind while Manu Smirthi is full of absurdities. Ayurveda, Yoga, the concept of zero, the Upanishads and the philosophy of Advaita are some of the important contributions of Hindus which are of immense relevance even today and this aspect should be stressed while writing and teaching history more than doing research to prove the antiquity of persons, events and works. It is the quality and relevance of a work or the ideal of a person which matters more than its age.

Post mortem of historical facts

India has given Ayurveda and Yoga to the world, but why the majority of Indians are malnourished and disease prone? Why today there is a mad rush to go abroad for higher studies by Indian students while it was the reverse, a few centuries ago, with India being the ideal destination for higher education for students all over the world?

Having produced philosophical and spiritual treatises like the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Advaita philosophy, Hindus have failed to give spiritual solace to the world while fanatical cults masquerading as peaceful religion have been able to attract worldwide adherents. Even in its own land Hindus have been divided into plethora of castes, sub-castes, sects, sub-sects and creeds and are after each other’s throat. While superstitions are rising to new heights, spirituality has been declining among Hindus.

In spite of centuries of political slavery, Hindus are little prepared to face the imminent threat to their religion and culture from alien forces. All these, our historians have to introspect and write objectively as to why has the Hindu has failed, is it caste, the present political set-up modeled on western political system or the sheer lack of values amongst Hindus.

Experimenting with new teaching models

Teachers with oratory skills

If the purpose of teaching history is to develop patriotism, morals and get inspired by events and personalities then the way history is taught in schools at present needs to be reevaluated. Not all history teachers are able to teach with much enthusiasm and passion so as to arouse patriotism or inspire the minds of their students with high ideals. This in turn makes the students develop a lackluster attitude towards history. Hence why not give a try and bifurcate the writing and teaching of history into two separate domains. While students of history could involve in writing history, doing research, collecting data from archives and information through archeological excavations, those (from whichever field) who have good oratory and presentation skills, command over languages (English or other Indian languages), having the ability to express their thoughts clearly and able to electrify the classroom atmosphere could after a brief training in historical subjects be allowed to teach history in schools. This concept will be somewhat similar to the role played by writers of science fiction and popular science books in popularizing science amongst youngsters and thereby encouraging them to take up its study at the university level.

Mother tongue as the medium of instruction

Another experiment which could be tried is to incorporate historical topics in State languages being taught in schools. At present History is taught along with civics/economics/geography as a subject called social studies. It is taught in English in English medium schools. But normally emotions can be aroused when spoken in one’s mother tongue and for inculcating patriotism, moral values and virtues, it is necessary to arouse the sentiments of the students and this can happen only when History especially biographies of great men are taught in one’s mother tongue. Hence instead of teaching History as a separate subject, its content should be incorporated in languages taught, especially the State language and imparted to students. This will also help our students gain grip over their mother tongue which unfortunately the children studying in English medium schools are trailing behind. History as a separate subject can be taught at the college level in a professional manner.

Critical examination of our Classical works

Indian literature like the Vedas, Brahmanas, Ramayana, Mahabharatha and the Puranas contain mine of information about ancient personalities and events. This information could be corroborated with Buddhist, Jaina and Sangam literary sources and from archeological findings to reconstruct the history of ancient India earlier to the Buddhist period. But not much progress has been done in this attempt as facts in these sources were interposed with highly exaggerated and fanciful accounts during the regular revisions of these texts and when it was put into writing.

But a critical examination of our ancient texts based on reasoning would reveal the period during which these interpolations took place, the verses so interpolated, the persons behind it and their motives for doing so; be it to promote their ideology, to establish the supremacy of their caste, creed or faith or the texts just fell into the hands of a writer who meddled with it with his wild imagination. Once these interpolations are identified, the real facts available in our ancient literature will be an excellent source for us to reconstruct the history of our ancient period.

The date of Mahabharatha war can become the sheet anchor to reconstruct the history of ancient India. If we unanimously agree at one of the numerous date ascribed by scholars as the date in which the Mahabharatha war took place, we can make an attempt to outline the history of our ancient political history beginning at least from 5000 B.C.

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