On the common argument that history is always biased
I have often heard people say that any history is biased and one can only get the side of the victor. There is a tendency to take this argument so far as to even suspend simple logic (e.g., if author A refers to author B, then B lived before A or the two were contemporaries) and cast doubts on hard facts (e.g., historical dates based on modern dating methods or an astronomical observation or a geological event). Such a study of historical facts is sometimes referred to as descriptive history. There is no room for subjectivity here; you can’t have different winner and loser views. Also it should be noted that hard evidence is more readily available for more recent times. British colonial period and Mughal period are very well documented, but strong data is available going back to at least early CE.
So, one of the goals of this blog is to set the record straight. Yes, it is crooked now. I will present examples in other posts.
On subjectivity in interpretation
Once you have described how things were, the next step is to try and explain why they were like that. This is where subjectivity enters and there can be multiple points of views. Now we enter the realm of prescriptive history.
Let’s say archaeologists found a 6000 year old sculpture showing two men, a woman and a monkey at their feet. The location of the sculpture and its age cannot be a matter of debate. But there can be many ways of interpreting the findings. For instance, one could say that it depicts three humanoids and one robotic monkey, or ordinary humans with a pet monkey, or animal rights violation in ancient times!
Or one could give a Dharmic interpretation – it depicts Ram, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman from the epic Ramayana. Rajiv Malhotra calls this the insider view.
[And, by the way, this example is based on a real excavation in Iraq!]
There is no way to settle this beyond all doubt. The most you can do it try and find as much supporting evidence for your interpretation as possible. And doing so without cherry picking to support your point of view – a commonly used tactic to distort history.
Most academic scholars in the west and sizeable number in India interpret Hindu history from an adharmic or an outsider angle. The dharmic angle is either not presented or, if presented, dismissed using spurious evidence and flawed logic. The distortions have crept into Indian news media and even school textbooks.
So, another goal of this blog is to put forth the Dharmic angle. Basically provide an alternative point of view which is not easily available in mainstream academia or media.