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Post Info TOPIC: Romila Thapar’s Double standards and Half Truths


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Romila Thapar’s Double standards and Half Truths

Romila Thapar’s Double standards and Half Truths


This is with reference to Prof. Romila Thapar’s article ‘Where fusion cannot work — faith and history’ (The Hindu, 28-Sep-2007).


While every scholar is entitled to his or her own views on the historicity of Sri Rama it comes as a shock to see a scholar of Prof. Thapar’s repute set double standards for Indic Divinities, as against those from other traditions - particularly non-Indic and/or Abrahamic. For example, she states that in the case of Sri Rama, the variant versions of the story is, in itself, not evidence of historicity and that if the variants contradict each other as they do, this may create problems for those who believe that only one of the variants is true.


In the case of Jesus narrative variants have been ruthlessly suppressed. Now scholars are discovering ancient narratives which contradict synoptic Gospels at every major point – like the family life of Jesus, role of Magdalene, the supposed betrayal of Judas etc.
Even the accepted Synoptic Gospels present invented genealogies of Jesus (which have no common names for 14 generations) because the authors wanted Jesus to be hereditarily linked to David To crown it all no external sources have been discovered to date outside the body of Gospel literature (both Gnostic and Synoptic) to ascertain the historicity of Jesus. Even Dead Sea scrolls are silent on Jesus.
Also unlike in the case of Sri Rama where His actions turned out to be trend setting examples in the mythological and devotional literature of South Asia, every supernatural act ascribed to Jesus in Gospels had their precursor in the past mythological Divines. From turning water to wine (Dinoysius) to his resurrection from the death (Tammuz), Jesus had mythological ancestors popular in Judaeo-Roman-Hellenistic traditions.
Yet our learned professor has no problem in declaring the historicity of Jesus whom she also qualifies as Christ – the Anointed one – a Christian claim based on what many Hebrew scholars consider as misinterpretation of verses from Jewish scripture.

Coming back to the claims on the historicity of Ramayana, most historians who have no ideological vested interests accept the historical kernel of Ramayana. They may differ and debate on the details. Thus Dr.B.B.Lal the eminent archaeologist who excavated the Ramayana sites concludes that Ramayana is not a figment of imagination but based on historical events which were popular in the memory of the people which Valmiki composed into an epic narrative. Dr.B.B.Lal dates Ramayana events to 700 BCE. The unfortunate tendency of certain historians who put ideological vested interests over objective scholarship resulting in suppressing the conclusions arrived at by Dr.B.B.Lal after the Ramayana project, being presented in the ICHR meeting of 1988 has been explained by the eminent archaeologist in the very pages of ‘The Hindu’ itself (‘Facts of history cannot be altered’, July 1 1988).

Hence when ASI stated that Ramayana has no historical basis it was simply indulging in ‘suppressio veri suggestio falsi’ game.

That Ramayana in its general outline known today, was also known to people of India even prior to Sage Valmiki, is well attested by varied literary evidence from across the nation. particularly from the South. Like for example from ancient Tamil Sangham literature which mentions an event related to Rama that goes unmentioned in Valmiki wherein Sri Rama plans the military strategy under a banyan tree in Rameshwaram and the birds whose sounds disturb the meeting fall silent as Sri Rama commands them to be quiet (Aham: 70:15).

The mention of Rama here makes it clear that the lore of Sri Rama coming to the south and winning in the battle against the demon of Lanka is not something that originated in the North and later spread over to the South but that was as strong in the south Indian tradition as it was in north India even during the period historians usually attribute to Sage Valmiki Ramayana, that is around 200 BCE.

This is also roughly the time attributed to Sangham literature. In fact the Sangham mention of Sri Rama also hints at Rama’s divinity as his words not only had a supernatural effect on the birds but also the lines speak of his words as being scriptural in nature (‘Aru Marai’'வெல்போர் இராமன் அருமறை').


Even stranger is the claims that Prof.Thapar makes about the Buddhist Jataka variant of Ramayana that it does not mention the abduction of Sita or Sri Rama’s war with the demons. Historian Himansu Bhusan Sarkar explains this particular aspect of the Jataka tale variant of Ramayana thus:
“The non-mention of southern topics does not, of course, prove anything., as the Jataka-stories were framed only with limited objectives and had no compulsive motive to narrate the whole story but by the third century AD the story had assumed its present features, because, in a Chinese collection of some Jataka stories which were translated by a Sogdiana monk between AD 222 and 280, the episodes of Rama’s exile , the abduction of Sita by Ravana, the duel of the latter with Jatayu, of Sugriva and Vali, the construction of a bridge to Lanka, the ordeal of Sita have been drawn in outline.” (pp 103-104, The Ramayana traditions in Asia, Sahitya Akademi 1989)


Equally amusing is her claim about Jain Ramayana ‘variants’ as she calls them. From Puama-cariya of Vimala-Suri (end of 3rd century CE) to Rama Charitha of Devavijaya-ganin (1596 CE) one finds the theme of Rama-Ravana battle in Jain Ramayans. Also Prof. Thapar claims in her article that in the Jain version ‘Ravana is not a demonic villain but a human counter-hero’ But in Puama-cariya considered the earliest Jain version of Ramayan, Ravana is mentioned as leader of demons (PC: 3:9) More relevant to the issue in hand, the Jain Ramayan specifically mentions the Vanaras building a bridge to Sri Lanka. (PC: 3 v.12)

Another great Jain monk who hails from the southernmost part of India, Saint Illango in his immortal Tamil epic ‘Chilapathikaram’ (usually dated as 200-300 CE) compares the leaving of his epic hero Kovalan of his hometown to Sri Rama leaving Ayodhya.

And in the epic he mentions how Tamil shepherds were singing and dancing the praise of Sri Rama destroying the demons of ancient Lanka and in through their song the Jain monk praises Sri Rama as the incarnation of Maha Vishnu and laments that the ears that hear not His praise exist in vain.

Clearly by 200 CE if not before, Sri Rama going to Lanka and killing the demons there and veneration of Sri Rama as the avatar of Vishnu have all become part of the Tamil devotional tradition and day to day culture.

There is also the strong possibility that many popular devotional aspects of Rama tradition –like the squirrel helping the Sethu Bandhan which finds first literary mention in Thirumalai: 27 - that are found throughout India may have originated and spread from South India itself.

Clearly it is not only ASI which has been playing the ‘suppressio veri suggestio falsi’ game.

That said one cannot but agree with Prof. Thapar when she states that a search for a non-existent man-made structure takes away from the imaginative leap of a fantasy and denies the fascinating layering of folk-lore. While rejecting the literalists, one is at a loss to understand why Prof. Romila Thapar fails to see the cultural dimension of the natural formation that inspired the imaginative leap of not just fantasy but also devotional literature of a nation and the fascinating layering of the same by folk-lore and transforming it into one of the centres of national integration as acknowledged by none other than Mahatma Gandhi in his ‘Hind Swaraj’. In India, the whole national integration has been achieved through immersing the nation in such sacred geographic features associated with epic narrative, mythology, devotional literature and folklore.

With regard to the objection that Ram Sethu should not be destroyed not only for ecological and economic reasons but also because it has a cultural and spiritual dimension in the heritage of India, Prof. Romila Thapar asks rhetorically: “Has the idea become the heritage?” Perhaps our JNU Professor who is also, U.S. Library of Congress appointed first holder of the Kluge Chair, has been answered long back by a half-naked Fakir when he stated in such simple but forceful words thus:

“What do you think could have been the intention of those farseeing ancestors of ours who established Setubandha (Rameshwar) in the South, Jagannath in the East and Hardwar in the North as places of pilgrimage? You will admit they were no fools. They knew that worship of God could have been performed just as well at home. They taught us that those whose hearts were aglow with righteousness had the Ganges in their own homes. But they saw that India was one undivided land so made by nature. They, therefore, argued that it must be one nation. Arguing thus, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with an idea of nationality in a manner unknown in other parts of the world.” (Hind Swaraj, Chapter 9)


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