Dr Koenraad Elst’s fitting Response to Scroll.in promoting Aryan Invasion Theory

And there it is again – an article on scroll.in with an animated map of nonsense complete with ominous music in the background! Not to forget the customary hinduphobic section predictably titled “The Hindutva out-of-India myth”. It was first published on Jun 10, 2015 and updated on Jan 03, 2017. The author has solid hinduphobic credentials as evident from his regular contributions on scroll.in.

As for the present article Dr Koenraad Elst‘s response below sums it up perfectly –

Dear Mrs./Mr. Editor,

“While I don’t much mind an ignorant pen-pusher pontificating about the Aryan invasion debate, some concomitant modesty would at least be in order. Ridiculing any scepticism about the 19th-century Aryan invasion theory (AIT) merely shows that he is quite unaware of the state of the art.

“So he equates the rivalling Out-of-India Theory (OIT) with Flat Earth and Creationism. But it is very easy to find material evidence against both the latter, such as the fossil record. By contrast, your contributor is quite unable to muster any evidence against the OIT. Even Harvard professor and AIT champion Michael Witzel admits that no material evidence of Aryans moving into India has been found “yet”, i.e. after two centuries of being the official hypothesis sucking up all the sponsoring. So your correspondent thinks himself superior, successful where the greatest specialists have failed?

“A year ago I was participating in a Delhi conference on the Sindhu-Saraswati Civilization. While there, I received an e-mail from one of the world’s foremost specialists on the linguistic aspect of Indo-European origins, HH Hock, all the way from the US. Predictably, he upheld the now-dominant invasion scenario and added that no one takes the Out-of-India Theory seriously today (though it was the dominant assumption from 1786 till ca. 1820). Among linguists, this is approximately true: Nicolas Kazanas, Shrikant Talageri and myself have been in splendid isolation in those circles. But then, linguists who can competently argue in favour of the AIT are hardly more numerous. As I have verified at several specialist conferences, most concerned linguists don’t work on the problem of the origins, which has an aura of obsoleteness, and blindly follow the dominant theory because it happens to be what their textbooks contained. Which is what non-linguists like the cited team from Auckland also do.

“However, while I read this e-mail, I was surrounded by the creamy layer of Indian archaeology. Each professor read his paper presenting the findings at a particular Harappan site where he was digging, and each of them reported a complete cultural continuity, no trace of an invasion. Sitting next to me was the dean of Indian archaeology, the nonagenarian professor BB Lal. When he was young, he made his name by “proving” that the archaeologically attested Painted Grey Ware indicated the Aryans on their way into India. That “proof” is still cited till today in favour of t”he AIT, at least in India. But in reality, Lal himself has renounced that hypothesis decades ago, realizing that his posited link with Aryan invaders was itself based on a tacit acceptance of the omnipresent AIT. Today he emphasizes that there is no trace at all of any Aryan invasion.

“You choose to poison the debate by insinuating a Hitler reference into it. Suit yourself, but again it proves your ignorance, for Hitler was a zealous follower of the AIT. If the OIT has been associated with Hindutva (wrongly, for VD Savarkar, who launched this political concept, was an AIT believer), its alleged political use is at any rate only a trifle compared to the AIT. The OIT has been upheld mostly in one country for a few decades by a few scholars without any political power. By contrast, the AIT has been used politically for some 160 years by major state actors such as the British empire and Nazi Germany, and in India by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Ambedkarites (though BR Ambedkar himself emphatically rejected it), the Dravidianists, the missionaries and of course the secularists. If you don’t like the mixing of scholarship with politics, you should first of all lambast the AIT, not the OIT.

“May Allah (or Whoever serves as God to you secularists) give you the wisdom to keep your mouth shut on topics you don’t know enough about.

“Yours sincerely,

“Dr. Koenraad Elst”

Aryan-Dravidian Divide: One of the Biggest Bane of Videshi Indology

The Aryan Invasion Theory, although thoroughly discredited, still has deep impressions on the psyche of (confused) Indians. Along with Caste system, it is the poster child for the harm done by Videshi Indology. The most concrete illustration of the harm done by Aryan-Dravidian divide is the current politics of Tamil Nadu.

Dr Nagaswamy recently published a book titled Tamil Nadu: The Land of the Vedas which collects evidence against the Dravidian theory and sets the record straight. The following conversation between Rajiv Malthotra and Tamil scholar Dr. R. Nagaswamy talks about the book and much more.

More on the topic in this article on Pragyata.

 

Swamy on the Importance of Sanskrit

I recently had the privilege of attending a talk by Subramanian Swamy in New Jersey in an event marking World Hindu Unity Day. It was a high energy event and the audience was full of enthusiastic and nationalistic NRIs. Swamy gave a rousing speech on the importance of Hindus uniting. The during the Q&A the moderator asked something like – what can NRIs do to help? I was expecting Swamy to say things like lobby, petition, donate, etc.

Swamy’s response [two min video clip] truly surprised me –

If you ask me one thing that you must do as living in the US, see that your children are persuaded to learn Sanskrit. Don’t do anything else, Sanskrit will do the rest!

On little reflection, it makes complete sense. Such is the power of Sanskrit!

Interview with Jeffrey Armstrong (Kavindra Rishi)

I came across this interview of Jeffrey Armstrong (also known as Kavindra Rishi), the founder of Vedic Academy of Science & Arts (VASA), apparently somewhere in the US. I did not know of him, but based on this interview I would say that he is an insider of Hindu tradition, just happens to be white American.

Some gems from the interview with my comments:

Vedic culture including the Buddhist version are properly called “Dharma Cultures”, since neither are bound by a single “rule book”. Buddha was a reformer of the Vedic culture and not the founder of a religion; the same is true for the Jain Dharma and Mahavira. You could think of the three Abrahamic religions as “people of a book”, whereas the Vedic people are the “people of a library”.

Note – Buddha was a reformer, not a revolutionary who revolted against the Vedas as Pollock would have you believe.

The English term God was originally a Sanskrit word taken from the Vedas and mentioned several times in the Bhagavad-Gita: “Hutam” or the smoke arising from an offering placed into a sacred fire ceremony. Hutam became “Gutam” in German, “Goot” in Dutch, and “God” in English.

wow! I had no idea that the word God has Sanskrit roots.

Like so many words in English, the word “God” is an acquisition of a constantly colonizing culture, too busy trying to look grown up and sophisticated to bother giving credit to anyone else. This would be less problematic if the dogmatic branches of Christianity had not used the word so abusively, behaving as if they were the first and the only tradition to have a single source conception of the Supreme Reality or a name for such a Being.

Well said!

I am almost finished with a Bhagavad-Gita translation that has removed all Christianized English words and insists that the reader learn at least 200 Sanskrit words in order to express the many concepts that have never been explained by English words.

Excellent, much needed!

The historical truth is that Bharat was the wealthiest country in the world when the British arrived. At that time, public education in Sanskrit and regional languages was free for all. That Sanskrit education was purposely destroyed by the British so they could enslave the people of Bharat and steal their wealth. It also explains why the British strategy to destroy India was to stop Sanskrit education of the masses.

Echoes the work of Dharampal.

The point I am trying to make is, if you look carefully at English you will see Sanskrit hidden everywhere!

I am just beginning to see this!

Why bother with Ancient Knowledge when we have Modern Science?

I believe that ancient Sanskrit texts have a wealth of knowledge on a wide range of subjects, including science, and that it is well worth the effort to study them. A common response to this proposition is:

I doubt there is anything there which might be relevant today. In any case, even if there is something, why should I bother with a whole new approach when I already have something that works – modern science and technology. If it is needed today, modern science will rediscover whatever our Rishis found. 

In this post I would like to challenge this view with two main counter arguments.

Before I present the arguments, let me say that the progress that modern science and technology has made in short 500 years since Galileo is truly mind blowing. The advances in the last 100 years since the steam engine are even more spectacular. I am well aware of the recent breakthroughs in genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, robotics and computing. The potential of each of these technology individually is immense, but combining them really takes you into crazy science fiction realm.

In fact, science has come so far that Ray Kurzweil is able to talk about singularity and people actually take him seriously. Including me! I agree with Ray Kurzweil that technology can grow exponentially. But the point he misses, I think, is that exponential growth may not be sustainable forever as it may hit a fundamental bottleneck (think Moore’s Law). And once that happens, you need breakthroughs in basic science, which are completely random and unpredictable – you cannot generate an Einstein by design, just create conditions such that if an Einstein were to show up, he would not go unnoticed. So, yes, singularity is a possibility but it is not inevitable, and most likely not on the time scale that Ray Kurzweil imagines.

Here are my arguments for why we should study the Indian ancient sciences:

Argument 1: We need breakthroughs in Mind Sciences

I believe our ancient knowledge can inform a whole range of fields in both social and physical sciences. But one area where it can have a huge impact is mind sciences or neurosciences. In this domain modern scientific understanding is truly primitive. Needless to say, mind sciences can have direct impact on our emotional and mental well-being. Modern medicine’s understanding of the human brain is at the same level where modern physics was just after the invention of the telescope (I consider functional MRI as the telescope of neuroscience.) Mental health issues have reached epidemic proportions world over – this is better appreciated in the West than in the developing world, but the problem is universal. For most mental disorders, forget cure, modern medicine cannot even diagnose the problem with any confidence. It just comes up with different names. As an example, look at the history of autism described by Steve Silberman in this sobering TED talk.

I believe our ancient Rishis excelled in mind consciousness studies. They certainly thought very deeply about it, and more importantly, very differently from the way modern medicine is approaching it today. The reason for this, I think, is the absolutely central role of meditation in Hinduism. One just needs to read a good commentary on Patanjali’s Yog Sutras to get an idea of the depth of their knowledge (here’s one recommendation: Four Chapters on Freedom by Swami Satyananda Saraswati). In fact, I look at Swamis and Yogis more as psychologists and neuroscientist, than as spiritual or religious teachers! Other Dharmic traditions, particularly Buddhism, would probably also have something valuable to contribute here since meditation is a core practice in those traditions too.

Argument 2: Science is not at the center of the society due to it’s secular origins

My second argument is not about a specific area of science, but about the status of science and technology in today’s society. The spectacular rise of western science and technology has had some serious adverse effects. We have damaged the environment to an extent that some of the damage may be irreversible (watch the documentary Racing Extinction). We now have nuclear and biological weapons which have the potential to wipe out a good fraction of life on earth. I have already mentioned the mental health epidemic. There are other disease epidemics too, for example, auto immune diseases. Though modern science may have created some of these problems, I have no doubt that it can also find the solutions to quite a few of them.

But do we have the social, political and economic structures to enable this?

I would say – No, not by a long shot. In spite of the existential threats that we face today, science and scientists are hardly at the center of the society. If you don’t believe me, ask any researcher in a university or even one in a corporation about the funding situation. But do so at your own risk since the whining can go out of control! You will get sob stories of how screwed up the system is and how they have to beg before politicians and business heads who have no idea about the science and on and on. Most large scientific initiatives would not have materialized without a politician championing it, for example JFK for the Apollo mission and now Joe Biden for Cancer. In other words, regardless of how important or urgent the scientific question is, it does not go anywhere until a politician or a businessman gets on board.

Why is this so? Why does science, in spite of all its successes and potential, get a step motherly treatment?

So far I was talking like a journalist and just describing things as they are. Now let me put on a sociologist’s hat, and present an admittedly speculative theory on how we got here. I feel that the present status of science in society is to a large extent due to its historical origins as a revolt against the almighty Church. You just need to read Galileo’s Daughter to realize how strong the Church was in 16th century Europe and how hostile it was towards science. Modern science arose in the Renaissance period as a revolt against the establishment, which pretty much was the Church at that time. The impact of this secular origins linger on to this date and is partly the reason for science not being truly integrated into the society. Neil deGrasse Tyson summed it up well when he said something to the effect that it is ridiculous to see people bad mouth science while talking on their cell phones! I don’t think this is merely due to poor science education or poor out reach by scientists. The conflict between cultures based on Abrahamic religion and modern science continues to this date. Oh, by the way, left leaning atheists who claim to be champions of secularism and science are not doing themselves any favor by mocking religion and spirituality. They need to understand that spirituality does not equal blind faith and superstition, certainly not in the Dharmic traditions. I feel that extreme atheists can be just as obnoxious as religious fundamentalists, for example, Javed Akhtar in this conversation with Sadhguru.  If you come down on the side of Javed Akhtar, all I can say is try to suspend your arrogance for a bit and listen to a few more talks by Sadhguru.

Now, lets talk about the position of science in ancient India. And by ancient here, I mean pre-mughal. This conflict between science and spirituality never existed in Hinduism. Vedic philosophy does not dismiss the modern scientific method. In fact the two can collaborate fruitfully. It is already happening with Ayurveda and modern medicine, though modern science is the one who is more hesitant. In Vedic philosophy the ultimate goal for an individual is to gain a deep and clear understanding of the nature of the self. And the collective responsibility of the society is to create conditions for individuals to pursue this goal. Furthermore, the genius of the Hindu tradition is that it does not prescribe a single path leading up to the ultimate truth. In other words, freedom of thought and exploration is built into the Hindu framework. And science could, and, indeed was, one such path. The subtitle of Dr Alok Kumar’s wonderful book Sciences of the Ancient Hindus sums it up beautifully: Unlocking Nature in the Pursuit of Salvation. There could be a whole series on ancient Indian studies with subtitles like ‘unlocking music in pursuit of salvation’, ‘unlocking trade in pursuit of salvation’, ‘unlocking language in pursuit of salvation’, and so on. In other words, Indian civilization did not need secularism to develop as a culturally and scientifically advanced civilization. On the contrary it was the quest for the sacred and spiritual that motivated individuals to excel in different areas of human endeavor. When Rajiv Malhotra says that ‘Sheldon Pollock is removing the sacred dimension’ he is talking about attacks on this very foundation of the Indian civilization and we should take it seriously.

Now, let’s envision a society organized based on the Dharmic principles. Using the categorization of the varna system, the center of such a society would indeed be the Brahmins as they are the knowledge producers and disseminators. And Brahmins would include not only swamis and gurus, but also artists, musicians and scientists. Brahmins would not have political or economic powers but all other sections of the society would be obligated to heed to the advice of the Brahmins. In fact, everyone else, including politicians and business heads, would consider themselves support staff for the Brahmins!

Conclusion

In summary, we should realize that there is no conflict between modern science and the knowledge of our Rishis, and also that modern science may not be the panacea. By studying the ancients, modern science only stands to gain new ideas and insights. Let me remind you that I am not one of those who romanticize our past claiming that India was an utopia, err Ram Rajya (!), in 5000 BCE. But neither am I dismissive of my past. The way forward is not to try and regress to the past, but to study it with the attitude and humility of a seeker. I hope this post will encourage such exploration.

The public ignoramus

This is a brilliant article by Michel Danino on the hyprocrisy and the ridiculousness of outrage by the pseudo-secular on MHRD’s circular to IITs encouraging Sanskrit studies. The sarcasm in the article is priceless!

This is the height of hypocrisy of the Congress party –

Be that as it may, here is the government’s recommendation: “Research in Indology, the humanities and social sciences will receive adequate support. To fulfil the need for the synthesis of knowledge, inter-disciplinary research will be encouraged. Efforts will be made to delve into India’s ancient fund of knowledge and to relate it to contemporary reality. This effort will imply the development of facilities for the intensive study of Sanskrit.” Before you righteously cry out against this highly jingoistic and communal agenda, allow me to add a dateline: the above is not a diktat of today’s government, but the recommendation of the Congress government in its National Policy on Education of 1986. Savour the irony (or should I say the hypocrisy?).

The closing paragraph of the article sums it up perfectly –

What is needed is not governmental intervention, but the creation of an atmosphere of genuine culture where students are invited to critically explore wider horizons. Let the thali of Indian culture be offered to them, and let them be free to accept or reject this or that dish — but after tasting it. And let our Public Ignoramus spare us his high-decibel, stereotyped and neo-colonial disparagement of one of the finest heritages humanity may yet claim.

The article refers to the SandHI series, a collection of works on Science & Technology in Ancient India published in 2015 in the Financial Chronicle. Worth a read.

 

Response to Shatavadhani Ganesh’s review of The Battle for Sanskrit

This is indeed a thorough and critical review of Rajiv Malhotra’s book The Battle for Sanskrit,  befitting a scholar of Shatavadhani Ganesh’s standing. SG admits the influence of Pollock and the need for opposing people like Pollock who are undermining Sanskrit and Sanskriti. Infact he provides explicit material to strengthen RM critique of Pollock in the appendix “Additional Approaches to Counter Pollock”. I hope SG expands this appendix to a full article.  

Given all this it is somewhat puzzling that SG can not bring himself to fully support RM; he supports the spirit of RM’s mission, though. It seems to me that SG is primarily bothered by RM’s presentation of the finer aspects of Hindu tradition and philosophy – idea of transcendence; blurred boundaries between sastra, kavya, and veda; epistemologies of adhibhuta, adhidaiva, and adhyatma; scope of dharshana and dhyana, etc. And yes, these are finer aspects for a large majority of Hindus, including myself.

Does SG really believe that the current social, political, and even academic environment in India is conducive to such lofty discussions? 

Let me illustrate the importance of what RM is doing using my own example.

I grew up in India in the 80s and 90s in a Hindu family. I went to top CBSE schools and an ‘ivy league’ engineering college in India — a privileged upbringing and best education by any standards. However, nothing in my education at home or in school exposed me to the philosophical underpinnings of the Hindu tradition. At an individual level, Hinduism for me was effectively what RM calls ‘transactional hinduism’ and at a community level it was about festivals and rituals. And at the political level it was about caste, cows and Ram mandir. In effect, a lay Hindu in India is completely unaware of the deep philosophical basis of the Hindu tradition. And if you add to that the idea that origin of modern science and technology in the west involved rebelling against religion, you end up with the mindset that I had just out of college. Forget being proud of my heritage, I had become cynical about it and at best I thought of it as a glorious past which belonged in the past.

And I was not an outlier – most of my highly educated Hindu friends had the same attitude.

Then I came across the work of RM a few years back and it completely changed my views. Suddenly it all made sense. I understood that my previous mindset was an outcome of a massive multi-century social engineering program that was started by the likes of Max Mueller, institutionalized by the British and pretty much continued forward post-independence. If anything it became more vicious due to people like ‘pandit’ Pollock and his Indian followers. Now I am enraged, but not surprised by commentaries in defense of Pollock by people like Ananya Vajpayee in leading Indian newspapers like Hindu! At a personal level, I am no longer ashamed or apologetic about my heritage. On the contrary, I am motivated to go deep into it, not with an attitude of cynicism, but one of shraddha.   

But now I am an outlier!

Most of my friends continue to have the same pseudo-secular anti-Hindu attitude and think of me as fringe or right wing (hence the title of this blog!).

My point is that if SG really wants to elevate the discourse to the level of his critique here, then the first step has to be winning the battle that RM has outlined. I learned a lot from this review and I hope SG uses his deep understanding of the subject to mentor the ‘home team’, not undermine it.

Additional Reading

Other analysis of SG’s review:

  1. By Aditi Banerji on 27 March 2016 (link)
  2. By Raja Bhardawaj on 27 March 2016 (link)
  3. By Druvid A CRITIQUE OF DR.GANESH’S CRITICAL REVIEW OF RAJIV MALHOTRA’S ‘THE BATTLE FOR SANSKRIT’ on March 26 2016 (link)
  4. By Rajiv Malhotra A preliminary response to Shatavadhani Ganesha on 26 March 2016 (link)
  5. By Sejuti Banerjea A Laymans Response To Shatavadhani Ganesh on 26 March 2016 (link)
  6. By SureshVure RESPONSE TO SHATAVADHANI GANESH on 29 March 2016
    (link)
  7. By Rajiv Malhotra – full response posted on April 4, 2016 in two parts (part 1, part2). For me these two articles are the last word on this debate! Must read.

Appendix

With that background, here are some specific comments on SG’s review:

  1. SG makes the following observations regarding RM’s contributions and his mission: 

This is not a new battle. It has been fought before, and won before. We (Malhotra included) have to humbly submit to the fact that we are merely trying to continue the great scholarly tradition.

The battle for Sanskrit and Sanskriti is not a new one.

.. Malhotra writes in several places that he is the first person to undertake such a task (see pp. 27, 44, or 379, for example), which as we know is false.

He provides extensive bibliography of “past masters” who countered the ‘outsiders.’ I am not aware of most of these masters but will now try to seek out their works. As for how much credit should RM get, I have explained his impact above.

I will just add that the scope of this battle is huge and I hope the other scholars would do the same kind of outreach as what RM does — write books explaining things for a common Indian, visit college campuses and make their lectures videos available broadly.

2. SG writes

.. it is noteworthy that Time has been unkind to theories and approaches that have been against the spirit of sanatana dharma.

In principle, I agree with SG here but perhaps this time is different.

The ground reality is that Pollock is being awarded the Padma Bhusan and made the head of Murty Library of Classics! The influence of western indologists is deep and too close to home. 

Moreover, in this age of social media it is not difficult to spread false propaganda. Nevertheless, I do not believe in any sort of censorship. I just want equal representation for both the insider and outsider views. It is then up to an individual to pick his side.

  1. SG writes

[RM] aims to show that Hinduism is exclusivist in its own way and its exclusivism is somehow better than other exclusivist faiths like Christianity or Islam (see his previous book, Being Different).

RM books and lectures do not give me this impression. He has repeatedly and explicitly said that dissent and diversity of thought are unique strengths of the Hindu tradition and must be preserved.

  1. SG writes

That said, Malhotra’s analysis of European Orientalism and its latter variant, what he terms ‘American Orientalism’ is reasonably accurate. When the British scholars came in contact with Indian knowledge systems in the 18th and 19th centuries, they faced a worldview vastly different from theirs. Instead of understanding the Indian view in Indian terms, they force-fitted what they observed into the worldview they were familiar with. Added to this, there was the White Man’s Burden that egged them to ‘civilize’ the people they conquered. This led to a gross misrepresentation of the Indian culture and this would later become, ironically, the primary source for educated Indians to learn about their own culture. This viewing of India through the Western lens has given rise to several erroneous conclusions and Malhotra makes this point numerous times in his book (to the extent that he could have saved many pages had he chosen not to repeat himself).

Very well put. Completely agree. But this is not common understanding and more scholars need to make this point .. repeatedly!