I often miss the dialogues which are done and put on social media by voices I admire.
If I am in a mood to defend myself, I say but what’s new, don’t I know it.
A more legitimate excuse is that I am neck deep on a trilogy on Russia and could hardly pull myself out for other worthy exercises.
Yet, the other day I watched on YouTube a dialogue on Indian history between four eminent on the platform of “Arth – A Cultural Fest” (2023) and found more than one idea which intrigued me.
One of course was raised by Meenakshi Jain whose modest twitter bio – Historian with Indic perspective – isn’t enough nor I guess is what wikipedia has put out for us. Let’s put it this way: If you have to choose one authentic Indian historian against many pretenders, and traiters, she would be my choice.
Jain elucidated on why the pre-Islamic Indic architecture has just been reduced to temples, not to say that not one original—yes, NOT ONE ORIGINAL —has survived in north, built as most present in our times are from the 18th century onwards.
The other was by Dr Omendra Ratnu, author of Maharanas: A Thousand Year War for Dharma, who wondered why our textbook history essentially is dark and morose and doesn’t convey the resistance Hindus put up against the Islamic invaders from the time it made an appearance on our soil in the form of Muhammad bin Qasim in the eighth century.
One other panellist in the discussion, Aabhas Maldahiyar, I follow closely on twitter for he would never let a lie go unanswered, never mind the drain it must be on his time busy as he is on a six-volume book on Timurid invaders we have been told were Mughals.
The fourth panellist was Sreejit Datta, busy on writing a book on revolutionaries of Bengal, only recently a presence on twitter but whose nuanced expressions left me in no doubt he would command ears.
Aabhas I would choose to begin with for I knew he was a Communist to begin with but was intrigued how the “conversion” to nationalist cause happened. Well, as he explained, his father was a professor of history though he himself chose to be an architect. Then a chance visit to Ajanta Caves transformed him. In Aabhas’ own words (loosely put below):
“In most caves you move up but here was a depression. It was also intriguing to me how the paintings could be done in the darkness inside: Either you need fire or sun but if you opt for the first, the resultant carbon inside the cave wouldn’t let an organic painting survive.”
Aabhas then sought out a famous architect who explained to him that if water is filled in the depression, it’s reflection provided the light which made the wonders of Ajanta Caves be made and survive to this day.
It inspired Aabhas to write a book on the subject in 2015 but those were the days of “Award Wapsi” and of course it met the fate it was destined to. Today, while in the pursuit of his six-volume book on Mughals, err Timurids, Aabhas won’t touch the existing accounts with a barge pole. Since most contemporary accounts are in Persian, Aabhas has trained himself in that foreign language to have a first hand, and not distorted, view on his subject matter. Imagine!
As for Muhammad bin Qasim and his conquest of Sind in 712 CE, Aabhas would venture to Sind region itself and see if any contemporary account exists.
While on this subject of looking for original source, Sreejit Datta had an interesting take on opportunities which exist for historians today. Datta said the history of oppression, persecution and colonization is largely localized in India. There are original accounts in say Bengali, Gujarati and other languages which need to be brought out for a wider audience, even on to a global stage, which would put existing narratives in better, more accurate perspective.
Dr Ratnu, a more strident voice, a historian by choice, says there was a Battle of Dewair (1606) which he being a Rajput didn’t know about. It drove him to his present pursuit. One thing led to other, and today he marvels at how Sisodias fought with the Islamic Jihad for a thousand years and which finds no mention in our history books. Dr Ratnu is now a serious voice on Rajput history and wishes likewise somebody brings out the heroics of Kakatiyas of Andhra, Gowdas of Karnataka, Solankis of Gujarat and Jats of Delhi who resisted the islamic invaders every bit of an inch.
Dr Ratnu has a problem with calling Akbar a Great for he can’t get over how that emperor once killed 40,000 Hindus on one single day! Thousands of Hindu women threw themselves in fire on February 25, 1568 lest they fall into the hands of Islamic forces. The firebrand in Dr Ratnu wants a neutral commission to judge our historians who he says were “pimping” for Jihad. In his view, a neutral commission should judge if these historians are culprits on distorting our history and if found so, should have their degrees taken away from them. He wants a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the wrongs which have been done to Hindus.
Admirably, Dr Ratnu runs Nimettekam, a body with a goal to save one crore Hindus who are living a life of hell in Pakistan. He claims it takes only Rs 8,000 to rehabilitate one Pakistani Hindu in India. He wishes Hindus, largely rather slothful, would wake up to what’s happening to their brethren across the border.
And then there was Meenakshi Jain who I have saved for the last. She still can’t get over the fact that the Sikh History had Guru Nanak and Kabir and little about the cruelties which Mughals meted out to Sikh Gurus. How is that there is nothing about the Peshwas or even so little about Shivaji?, she asks.
Jain says everything you see in Mathura and Kashi was rebuilt only in the 18th century as the originals fell to the fury of invaders. She is on her feet in praise of contemporary heroes who took the trouble to record the barbarity of Mahmud Ghazni; a commoner (Jin Prabhari) who travelled all over North India in the 14th century to record the destruction of every single shrine; a princess of Vijaynagar empire who recounted a dream in which a Goddess is asking her husband to get up and restore Dharma.
Finally, this gem from Jain: Emperor Shahjahan had a farmaan that no architecture or a building be seen on a highway or a main road except for a mosque or an Idgah. So sacred structures were pushed on the sidelines. Shahjahanabad in old Delhi, opposite the Red Fort which today is Chandni Chowk, all had only mosques and that too even in the bylanes. There was no temple to be seen. When the Britishers did a census, they could find no temple in Chandni Chowk never mind it was predominantly made up of Hindu jewellers! Intrigued they did a house-to-house survey and found that inside their homes, in the high walls, there were small openings—aalas—that was the size to which Hindu temples had been reduced to.
In Jain’s words, there was indeed Indic architecture which is known as Nagara and the Dravida style. Nagara or the temple architecture didn’t survive at all the Islamic fury. Dravida did since the Islamic brutality wasn’t as severe in South as it was in North. The temple construction in the North could only resume in the 18th century.
Aren’t we glad at this renaissance of our heritage which eminent like these four, and many others, are devoting their lives to?