The note on the blurb of Dwijendra Narayan Jha’s ‘Against the Grain – Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History’ proclaims:
“This short yet timely volume seeks to debunk the myths of a fantastic antiquity of Hindu identity, spuriousness of the Brahminical tolerance and the pseudo nationalism of the saffron brigade whose historiography is rooted in colonialism and her multiple Western paternities.”
The work is a collection of copious notes on the birth of Hindu identity, its various practices, and several myths created in the course of history and mainly its wholesale dependence and fabrication and prevarication.
The opening chapter seeks to throw light on “Pre history of Hindu Identity”. Though the Hindutva ideologues would have us believe in the eternity of Hinduism, the author shows that the entity has only a recent origin with the term ‘Hinduism’ being used for the first time by Charles Grant in 1787. Later the British rulers of India started using it freely as an authentic term, following their census operation, when they used the words ‘Hindus’ and ‘Mohammadans’ to classify the people of their Indian colony.
Another fact is the acceptance and free use of the term by the Hindu religious thinkers and reformists of the nineteenth century like Raja Rammohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati and Vivekananda, all of whom glorified the Vedas and the Vedic period and were forerunners of Hindu chauvinism which appeared later on in the Indian political scene. This tendency led to the decrying of Islam and Christianity by their successors who enjoyed demonizing Muslims, which practice engendered in the Hindus an irrational hatred for them. Bal Gangadhar Tilak followed in the same lines, sought to build an aggressive Maratha – Hindu identity often causing Hindu – Muslim tension.
Following the assertions in the Bhagvad Gita of which he was an avowed exponent, he espoused the use of violence, which themes were later taken over and fine tuned by the founders of militant and exclusive Hindutva, like V.D.Savarkar, K.B.Hedgewar and M.S.Golwalkar. These people were responsible for the founding of the RSS and infusing it with a para-military and fascist character.
The second chapter ‘Cow Conundrum’ goes into details of ritual and non-ritual killing and eating of cow along with other animals, which was very much in vogue during the Vedic period and continued into the medieval period. The scriptures stated that killing according to Vedic percepts was not killing at all. Even in the later days when cow killing started to be frowned upon it was but a minor sin. As long as Brahmins ate beef it remained a delicacy and when they gave it up it became the food of the untouchables. It was with the advent of Islam that Hindus started treating cow-killing as blasphemous and stereotyped Muslims as beef eaters and incited hatred against them.
In his article on Bharatmata, D.N.Jha goes into nomenclatures like Bharatvarsha and Aryavarta; their territories have never been clearly defined by any writer who used them, and often they seem to be exclusive, referring to two different areas. All the descriptions exclude the southern part of the Indian sub-continent. Yet another word used for denoting the sub continent was ‘Jambudvipa’ which was also equally elusive. It is only Hiuen Tsang and Alberunei who have come anywhere near the area known as India at present. Nowhere, however, do we find the anthropomorphic portrayal of Bharatmata until the nineteenth century, when two Bengali plays showed her as a character. The portrayal of Bharatmata as is known at present, was presented by Bankim Chandra Chattopadyaya in his novel Anandamath (1832). The author concludes the articles mentioning three Bharatmata temples, all built by rabid communalists.
The construct of tolerant Hinduism is of a recent origin according to Jha, who claims that the Western scholars like the French doctor Francois Bernier, the German Philosophers Johann Gottfried Von Herder, Immanuel Kant and orientalist William Jones were responsible for having started and popularized it. The trend was continued by Indian thinkers like Dayananda Saraswati, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, M S Golwalkar who spoke of equality of religions simultaneously eulogising Hinduism. Even the Muslim hater M.S.Golwalkar spoke of Hindus as the most tolerant people in the world, which, the author says, ‘sounded like devil quoting scriptures’. They all ‘used tolerance as a camouflage for Hindu belligerence.’
The acceptance of the Buddha emerging as an avatar of Vishnu is cited by scholars as an instance of mutual accommodation. But the author, quotes various writers who spoke of Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu, and ultimately ended up in denigrating him. No doubt that the Imam was believed to be Vishnu’s tenth avatara, even Akbar was sometimes elevated to the position and Queen Victoria was accepted as a Hindu goddess. However, reminds Jha, that ‘none of them occupied an important place in the brahminical scheme of things.’
The author points out that the brahminical sects not only fought among themselves but displayed enormous animosity towards Buddhism and Jainism in early India. In those days monks had to hide themselves in the day time as they were suspected of being spies. Kautilya displays unabashed contempt for them and prescribes for them a contemptuous treatment. After Mauryan periods the Brahmins and the Jains had become eternal enemies. The Brahmin king Pushyamitra Shunga seems to have carried on an intense persecution campaign against the Buddhists.
By the medieval period Buddhist temples, monasteries and stupas were vandalized under orders of the monarchs and thousands of monks and laity were butchered. Many Buddhists monasteries had been destroyed and Hindu temples had been built out of the materials.
The author documents the antipathy that was borne by the proponents of Saivism and Vaishnavism towards the Jains who were persecuted and whose monasteries were destroyed and converted into Saivite and Vaishnavite shrines. D.N.Jha is being fair to both the sides and records how the adherents of Buddhism and Jainism contemptuously denounced Vedic practices and Hindu gods.
In the interesting article, “What the gods Drank” he starts with soma which was the name of a god and a plant from which an intoxicating drink was produced. It was offered to Indra, Agni, Varun, Maruts and so on. Another drink sura was also consumed freely by the gods.
Even the epics speak of the gods’ fondness for intoxicating drinks. Krishna and Arjuna consumed bassica wine, while Balarama, influenced by Kadamba wine, was dancing with his wife. While crossing the rivers, Ganga, Yamuna, Sita promises to offer to worship the rivers with rice cooked with meat, thousands of jars of wine, and a thousand cows. In the Puranic tradition Durga is described as fond of wine, meat and animals. Varuni who came out of the celebrated churning of the ocean is goddess of wine. The Tantric religion is characterized by the use of wine, meat, fish, gesture and sexual intercourse.
There was a large variety of intoxicating drinks, nearly fifty, available in ancient India. Use of alcohol by men was quite common and women drinking were not rare. Seeing that a variety of drinks were available in India in various periods and they were offered and consumed with flourish, and people were not hesitant to create gods in their own image, the author says that our politicians “need not be offended by divine hedonism”.
D.N.Jha’s article on ‘Historiography’ opens with pseudo-history bandied about by the BJP – RSS combine and their tirade on genuine historians. He goes on to analyse the myths created by prejudiced British historians and nails them with unassailable facts.
The first one was that the Indians had not produced any work of history. Jha cites Buddhist texts, temple records and thousands inscriptions, among other materials as recorded history. The other one was that Indian society had been stagnant without having changed through ages. There have been writers like Bal Gangadhara Tilak who pushed the date of Vedic period to 8000 BCE The author examines such puerile claims made by others also and exposes their absurdity.
The third such myth was that the people of the sub continent had been divided into an antagonistic Hindu and Muslim binary.
The division of history into Hindu period and Muslim period had resulted in exaggerated and even falsified glorification of everything belonging to the antiquity at the cost of truth. The fourth colonial stereotype was that the Indians have always been other worldly. This had led to the claim by many Indian luminaries that India had been a civilizer of other countries. This, says the author, is “reminiscent of pan Germanism of the Nazis”. He decries the tendency to perpetuate the colonial perception of India.
He has devoted one chapter each to two historians, Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi and Ram Sharan Sharma, historians of repute known for education for objectivity.
This work by D.N.Jha is a welcome addition to the bookshelves of everyone who is interested in the right interpretation of history and the lessons – both positive and negative – to be derived from them.
– Leslie Amarson