Friday, November 23, 2007

Kosambi Blazed a New Trail, Let’s Follow It

This was the title Kosambi chose for his autobiographical note. He started with the question: ‘Why science’? And the reply was that he had opted for a career in science in the first place because there lay the key to progress, a key that his motherland had long ago lost to the West. The Marxist approach to science stands out in bold relief in his statement: “science is the cognition of necessity, freedom is the recognition of necessity.” His feelings on a personal encounter with Einstein, whom he called “the passionate adventurer” sheds light on his spirit of continuous search and research:

“In 1949 Einstein pointed out to me during one of several long and highly involved private technical discussions that certain beautifully formulated thesis of his would mean that the whole universe consisted of no more than two charged particles. Then he added with a rueful smile, ’perhaps I had been working on the wrong lines, and the nature does not obey differential equations after all.’ If a scientist of his rank could face the possibility that his entire life-work might have to be discarded, could I insist that the theorems whose inner beauty brought me so much pleasure after heavy toil must be of profound significance in natural philosophy?”

Arindam Sen remembers DD Kosambi on his centenary.

Kosambi on 1857

D.D. Kosambi, whose birth centenary in 2007 merits celebration at the national level, wrote at the age of 17 at Harvard an essay on the uprising of 1857; he expanded and published it in 1939, a now forgotten article titled ‘The Road to Kanpur’ in the Fergusson and Willingdon College Magazine of Pune. He wrote admiringly of the “proletarian heroes” who shed their blood in 1857 but he did not fail to note the “fratricidal loyalty” to the British displayed by some Indian sepoys whose “sword opened the first secure path for the grimy civilisation of Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield in many an unhappy corner of the world.” Kosambi’s characterisation of the uprising of 1857 was shaped by his understanding of its class character. In 1954 he held the view that “Indian feudalism tried its strength against the British bourgeoisie for the last time in the unsuccessful rebellion of 1857” (Monthly Review, vol. VI, New York).
Historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya recalls Kosambi's comments on the revolt of 1857.

Seasons and World View

The monsoon is not only a meteorological phenomenon for Indians but it deeply affects their literature, music, culture and the very psyche itself. Not only are the famous raga Megh Malhar and the poetic work Meghdoot expressions of it, but D.D. Kosambi, one of the great Indian encyclopaedists observed that the regularity of the cycle of seasons might have given rise to a fatalistic world view and even the myth of satyug, tretayug, dwaparyug and kalyug
A reference to Kosambi's observation on Indian climate.

We Loved Them Once

Upon the Centenary of DD Kosambi and Hiren Mukherjee
Everything for the cause
By Ashok Mitra (The Telegraph)

In this season of pragmatists and musclemen, thinkers are a distraction. It is therefore hardly surprising that centenaries of two outstanding ideologues — Damodar Dayananda Kosambi and Hirendra Nath Mukherjee — have passed almost unnoticed in the country: one or two tepid seminars, the rest is silence.

Kosambi was a mathematician who travelled to Marxism and stayed stuck. It was quite an extraordinary journey. Conferred a degree with summa cum laude from Harvard, Kosambi was a Phi Beta Kappa too. He could have opted for a comfortable existence in the United States of America, winning laurels after scholarly laurels, gaining great social eminence and rolling in wealth. Instead, he chose to return home to India, and spent years in research and teaching at the universities at both Benaras and Aligarh, perhaps to take a measure Everything for the cause Everything for the cause Everything for the cause Everything for the cause of orthodoxy and sectarianism of two different genres.

At some point in the late Thirties, he responded to the invitation from Pune’s Fergusson College where, under the tutelage of the Servants of India Society, the stress was on plain living and high thinking. Kosambi fitted snugly into the milieu and embarked on the most productive phase of his academic career. In 1942, Homi Bhabha invited him to join the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, which became Kosambi’s abode for the next 17 years. His services were rudely terminated in 1962 in the wake of the anti-communist frenzy sparked by the border clashes with China. One of the greatest mathematicians the nation has produced since Srinivas Ramanujan was sent packing on the ground that he was an ideologue and, what a horrid thing, a Marxist.

Curiosity does not die down though: how could a pure mathematician of Kosambi’s genre end up, in the course of a bare few years, in the turgid terrain of Marxism? Albert Einstein’s introductory essay, “Why Socialism”, which launched Paul Sweezy’s Monthly Review 60-odd years ago, perhaps provides part of the answer to the riddle. A mathematician is engaged all the while in tackling problems of symmetry and asymmetry, of linearity and non-linearity, of equations and non-equations. He deals with complex variables and the boulevards of statics and dynamics and, in the process, the laws of motion are at the centre of his scholarly concern. As he stares out of his window, he easily discovers in the real world the empirical correlates of the symbols, numbers and puzzles he has been cogitating over. The universe of mathematics has its prototype in the multiplex known as society. Are not integration and differentiation daily issues of human existence, and does not social structure eerily resemble a matrix which is the staple of algebra?

The cognitive aspect apart, Kosambi’s journey to ideology was the denouement of a step-by-step progression, from mathematics to statistics, statistics leading to worrying over a riddle in numismatics, numismatics prodding him on to archaeology — and what could be more natural than archaeological enquiry to evoke an interest in social history, from there the logical final point being the arcadia of ideology? In due course, Kosambi was bowled over by Marx’s law of motion of society, it was precise, logical, coherent, encapsulating history, economics, sociology, anthropology, biology, literature and much else. Kosambi ambled into Marxism much in the natural manner a child learns to walk. At the same time, he possessed much too original a mind to be a conformist. Those whom he used to playfully address as Official Marxists felt uneasy with his somewhat unorthodox analysis of the class structure of Indian society in ancient times. Kosambi was unconcerned. Marxism was a science, it is the burden of science to challenge orthodoxy.

While steadfast in his faith, Kosambi did not care to join the communist party. Hiren Mukherjee, on the other hand, was very much an organization man, always with the party, even in moments when his conscience was tortured by particular party decisions, such as during the Communist Party of India’s vocal support of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.

A brilliant historian, Mukherjee imbibed the Marxist faith early in his youth, and from then on, dialectical materialism jammed every stream of his consciousness. His oratory, whether English or Bengali or Urdu or, for the matter, Sanskrit, would reach unbelievably great heights. He was a prolific writer as well, ceaselessly at work on behalf of the cause. Each of these was a secondary element in his metabolism; his outstanding attribute was his passion. This passion was, very nearly, a physical phenomenon. One could almost touch it. It would reverberate within the precincts of the Lok Sabha when he was speaking; it would pour out in waves of quivering expressions when he declaimed at public rallies, it would spill over and beyond sentences and paragraphs of the essays on diverse issues he wrote in English and Bengali.

This is where the two ideologues walked away from each other. Kosambi’s Marxism was a package of cool deduction, carefully argued, the harvest of intellection honed over long years. He considered the analysis of social asymmetries as belonging to the category of scientific investigation, historical determinism revealed itself in the course of such explorations. Hiren Mukherjee’s starting point was Damodar Kosambi’s point of rest. To Mukherjee, an ideologue has to be, very nearly, a religious person, a proselytiser in the noblest sense of the term. To disseminate most effectively the seeds of faith, one must, he was convinced, carry along a load of honest passion. Spreading the message of the communist millennium that is a-coming is the most rightful of all causes; to ensure the success of this mission, one must avail of all possible resources, including the armoury of passion. Mukherjee would proceed even further. He would sternly remind his callers that, where Marxism was concerned, passion was more than an accessory, it was the principal thing. Ideology is passion; sans passion, ideology is an inert heap, a heap of abstruse theorizing bound to go over the heads of those whom it is intended to bring into the fold.

Beside the issue of passion, there was that other gulf, already mentioned, separating the two ideologues. Kosambi shunned the party apparatus, Mukherjee was unflinching in his party loyalty. With one exception: he was with the CPI but refused to toe its line of denigration of Josef Stalin. He would extol Stalin as much as he would extol Gandhi and Nehru, defending his position with passion and yet in a manner which did not compromise his ideology. His party was embarrassed, but could do nothing about it.

The middle decades of the 20th century were a golden age for romantics on the Left. A mathematician, otherwise a fanatic for the rigours of science, could still take pride in the philosophy of dialectical materialism he had arrived at, thinking and toiling on his own. An historian, born in the same year as the mathematician, only six months the junior of the other, had voyaged along a different route; his alma mater too was not Harvard, but Oxford, and his forte was not logic but passion. The divergence in the two trajectories hardly mattered. They gave their everything for the cause. The luckier of the two bade adieu before the catastrophe that struck international socialism. The other one lived longer and raged passionately against the dying of the day till his very last moment.

Both these noble ideologues belong, at this juncture, to the category of the discarded. Their centenaries have passed almost unnoticed. The eternal verities, it would seem, remain the patent of classics; consider this couple of lines from the lips of a Marlovian character: “I loved her once, but that was in another country./ And besides, the wench is dead.”

Saturday, November 17, 2007

DD Kosambi on Sati

Farid Muttaquin writing on the Sati tradition among the Hindus in India quotes Kosambi:

Local castes of Indian Hindu communities have used the politics of sati to support their political goals. Narrayan describes the ruling caste of Kshatriya Rajput, the priestly caste of Brahmins and the wealthy mercantile caste of Banias as the three castes in Rajasthan that were involved in the politics of sati. The Brahmins, one of the most crucial of Hindu fundamentalist groups in India, used sati incidents “to reorganize religious events to commemorate and celebrate sati”. The Rajput used these events “to reinforce their status as a martial race who are historic defenders of ‘Hindu dharma’, at a time when their power and status is declining.” Furthermore, Rajput presumed this tradition as a privilege of this caste as a way to maintain nobility and courage befitting the “mother of a martial race.” Meanwhile, the Banias were seemingly the main financial source of the establishment of the ostentatious sati temples, faith and profit reinforcing each other (Narrayan, 71). For instance, according to Kosambi, Upreti mentions that the Rani Sati temple had 105 branches in different towns and cities and this provided great financial profits for the caste. Furthermore, Upreti (1991: 108-110) interestingly describes this phenomenon of using the sati tradition for economic interests as “the industry of sati” or “commercialization of widow burning.” In this regard, Narrayan finally concludes that the sati tradition in contemporary local Indian Hindu communities provides economic, political and cultural power for these local castes.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Final Episode of Documentary on Indian History

All the episodes of Arvind N Das's documentary based on DD Kosambi's works are now available on the site. Here is the link to the last episode in the series.

The Way History Needs To Be Told

RS Krishnan offers a critical view of Arvind N Das's documentary (some excerpts have been carried on this blog earlier). He also links to a documentary on the Mughals.

While it was commendable of Arvind Narayan Das to make D D Kosambi's seminal book into a documentary series, many episodes were made with lot of factual inaccuracies not to speak of the analytical errors in them. To me particularly episode six on South India was shocking! This documentary, given its rather sombre tone may not appeal to children or even adults for that matter. Maybe the seriousness of the issues and themes raised merited such an approach - where history is not merely telling you something very empirical or perceptible from the past but focusing more on the underlying forces and socio-economic processes that shape the more visible aspect of our past. But here we have this wonderful documentary on Mughals titled "The Mughal Empire" under the series called Warrior empires shown on the History Channel, which even as it focuses on empirical history makes for compelling viewing and offers very revealing insights into the way Mughals fought their war, their architecture and lifestyle.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Kosambi on Nags

The Nags are said to have been associated with almost all great civilization- Mesapotamia, Rome, Greece and Egypt (Tavalkar,1979).D.D Kosambi (1965:86) states that Naga was a generic name for food gathering forest tribe and were a very respectable people.He further states (ibid. 93) apparently Naga became a generic term for forest aborigines,not necessarily connected or interrelated.who had a cobra (Nag) totem or worshipped the cobra as so many Indians aborigines (and not only aborigines) still do.The particular ‘Naga’ were in adjacent jungle at the time Kuru land was first settled by Aryans.Food gathering was much easier in Gangetic forest than in the open,semi desert basin or the foothills o the punjab.The same dense forest made it impossible to conquer the Nag or to reduce them otherwise to the status of tribals slaves, as had been possible with Dasa and Audra of the west.Naga line was friendly to and in some special relation with the Kurus,though not to the Pandavas.The term ‘Naga’ was not in vogue in vedic age for ethnic group (ibid,120),here it indicated aboriginal blood or at least aboriginal cult.And for that matter,Kolians the neighbours of Sakyan to whom Buddha belonged (ibid 109) were often counted among the aboriginals with the generic label ‘Naga”.So the term ‘Naga’ in all intent and purposes, denoted tribal groups or totemic groups of the tribals. ‘Pundra’ or ‘Pundarika’ is another term which is associated either to the name of ethnic group or to area of their habitation and has relevancy to the present enquiry.

read on

Scholars Without Borders on Kosambi

It is a great pity that when the JNU Library system was gifted the collection of D D Kosambi's personal books, they eventually chose not to keep them together in a single physical location. What were the books that a mind such as his found interesting? What were the crucial influences that allowed him, throughout his intellectual life, to contribute to mathematics, as well as to sanskrit studies, numismatics and to Indian history? And what was the reason for the daily commute on the Deccan Queen? All that might have been learned by seeing the physical evidence of the man's taste will now have to remain in the realm of mere speculation.
read on

Monday, August 13, 2007

Kosambi on Subhasitaratnakosa

Subhasitaratnakosa is an anthology of Sanskrit verses compiled by a Buddhist scholar named Vidyakara who lived in Bengal from the latter half of the 11th century AD to c 1130 AD. The first edition of this anthology, containing over a thousand verses, was prepared by Vidyakara shortly before 1100 AD. This first edition's palm leaf manuscript was discovered at the Ngor monastery in central Tibet. A second edition of the Subhasitaratnakosa (treasury of well turned verse), increased in size by about one third, containing 1738 verses, was compiled by Vidyakara himself not later than 1130 AD. A paper manuscript of this expanded edition was found in the private collection of the Nepalese Rajaguru, Pundit Hemaraja. The researches of DD Kosambi have shown that an anthology of Sanskrit verses published by FW Thomas in 1912 under the conjectural title Kavindravachanasamuchchaya from a fragment of a palm leaf manuscript represents the second edition of Subhasitaratnakosa.

About Vidyakara, the compiler of the Subhasitaratnakosa, no details are known. Researches of DD Kosambi have shown that Vidyakara was a monk at the Jagaddala monastery (in varendra) and in the compilation of his anthology he used the manuscripts kept in the library of that monastery.

Atomic Energy for India

(This is the unabridged text of a talk by Professor

D.D. Kosambi to the Rotary Club of Poona, on July 25, 1960.)

Atomic Energy for India

The word energy is associated in the minds of most of you with steam engines, electric supply, diesel or petrol motors, water-turbines and perhaps windmills. The word evokes others like horsepower, kilowatts, and calories; perhaps also electricity and petrol bills, price per ton of coal, and increased taxes for the Five-year Plans. I want only to point out to you that these technical, social and economic considerations go very deep, down to the foundations of human society. With the coming of atomic energy, they have reached a stage, which is critical for the whole of mankind, far above mere personal considerations.

We rarely think of the simplest and most familiar type of energy, namely that derived from food – though far too many in this world still have to think of food as the one overwhelming need for their lives. Man needs from 2000 to 4000 calories of nutritional energy per day, according to the climate, conditions of work, and type if food taken. In our ordinary discussions of a balanced diet vitamin etc. this elementary fact is often forgotten; namely that the value of food depends upon the amount of energy it can release in the human or animal body. To make this energy available in the digestive system, man needs to have his food cooked by fire, which means another form of energy obtained by burning fuel. The history of mankind begins with the first steps above the animal stage, when man learned to control fire, and began to produce food instead of just gathering it.

The next step, the formation of human society proper, with division of labour and differentiation of social functions, was made possible only by more power: that of animals such as cattle or horses for agriculture and transport. Human labour-power was also used in greater quantity, whether slave labour or that of paid drudges. Other sources such as windmills and water wheels helped. The industrial revolution could not have been realised before the discovery and the extensive use of the steam engine, in the early 19th century. Man succeeded in the conversion of fire-energy into mechanical work. Electricity came later in that century. It could be generated with or without the steam engine, as for example waterpower or the windmill; its chief advantage lay in the transmission of energy to places distant from the point of generation. The steam engine used directly meant chains, driving rods, gears, cables, or some such mechanical transmission. You know how much human society has been changed by electricity in a single lifetime, say the life-time of Edison.

What is the ultimate source of all such power? Food- grains, fruit, nuts etc. store their energy from sunlight, which is absorbed by the living plant, along with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, water vapour and other substances. Cellulose thus made is also the main source of the energy stored in firewood. Coal and oil are simply organic matter converted by deep burial in the earth for millions of years. Hence, all these forms of energy come from the sun, the difference being in the method by which the energy is stored. The chemical processes involved may be described as molecular change. The breakdown of the energy in food and fuel is also chemical and molecular. The molecules may change, their atoms do not. For wind-power, the sun heats up some of the air, which rises, and is replaced by other, cooler air. These air-currents drive the windmill. Water- power is similarly drawn from the sun without chemical change. The water evaporated by the sun's heat rises, forms clouds, and comes down again as rain. What we utilise is the how of rainwater from a higher to a lower level.

The electric energy, which appears on out monthly bills (in the few Indian homes fortunate enough to have the supply) is measured in kilowatt-hours. One-kilowatt hour is equivalent to one horsepower for about an hour and twenty minutes. It is also equivalent to a little more than 860,000 calories of heat. But these are the equivalents when nothing is lost in the change from one form to the other. In practice, something is always lost. No transformation of energy is a hundred percent efficient, and most of them are decidedly inefficient. The machine loses a good deal of energy in friction; electricity is lost in transmission, and by leakage; heat is radiated away. These losses are physically inevitable, and a fundamental property of matter. But energy is also a fundamental property of matter, apart from the chemical changes and mechanical processes. Matter cannot be destroyed by ordinary mechanical or chemical processes. But if it could be annihilated in some way, an equivalent amount of energy must appear. This was finally proved by Einstein, who summed it up in the formula E = mc2 which gives the absolute energy available from a given amount of matter.

Atomic energy is fundamentally different from molecular energy. For the first time in history, man has been able to duplicate the solar processes for himself on earth. Solar energy depends upon the breakdown of the atomic nucleus, with the resultant emission of heat, x-ray radiation, longer electric waves, and particles such as electrons, neutrons and the like. These last correspond to the smoke and ashes of ordinary fuel, but are much more dangerous to man. The electricity cannot be utilised directly. The main useful output of atomic nuclear reactions is still the heat, which has then to be converted into power like any other source of best. This might seem wasteful, but is much less wasteful than other forms of conversion. The animals, including man, cannot convert more than a limited amount of food per individual into energy, and that too not without considerable waste. Not only is the animal power plant quite inefficient, but it has to be stoked and fed all the time, whether any energy is utilised or not. You all know the low efficiency of coal and oil fuel. Hydro-electricity is better, but limited by lack of flexibility, and restriction to certain favourable localities.

What can humanity do with atomic energy? We must distinguish between what is now technically possible and what might theoretically be achieved in the very distant future. The most that has actually been done is to break down uranium nuclei, and to use the energy liberated. Other atomic nuclei can be broken down, but generally the process eats up more energy than it liberates. You know that this process has been misused. The atomic age arrived with a bang at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the form of a most deadly bomb. Its main use since then has been as a military and political weapon in the cold war, with which certain powers have tried to cow their opponents. The sun gets most of its energy from fusion. Four nuclei of hydrogen are squeezed together under immense heat and pressure to form one of Helium. A certain amount of mass left over in the process is converted directly into energy, by Einstein's Law. This has been done on earth in the hydrogen bomb. No materials known on earth can withstand the temperatures of fusion energy. If the available uranium were properly shared, we could convert many deserts into veritable gardens, industrialise the densest Amazon jungles, and free mankind from the worst forms of drudgery. This is no longer a technical problem, but a social one. A few pounds (about 8) of uranium sufficed to run a great submarine for seventy days. Automatic power plants could in theory be built which could be refuelled by air once every few months. Half a dozen trained men could run them. These plants could be located in any part of the world, without railways, waterways, or even road communication. But is the world prepared for this? The main question that most of you will ask is: What is the investment value of atomic energy? If the preliminary research and refining is to be done, there is virtually no investment value, for the private sector. The whole affair is fantastically costly. Those who say that atomic energy can compete with thermal or hydro-power, carefully omit to mention the fact that the preliminary costs have always been written off to someone else's account usually that of some government. Only in some socialist countries, where uranium is relatively plentiful, and new lands have to be opened up, is it possible to utilise atomic energy properly. Even there, military considerations play a considerable part, because of the cold war.

It is true that the known resources of radioactive material in the world exceed those known for coal. But the cost of uranium is artificially high. Then there is also the question of by-products. Animal by-products are good fertilisers; the skins and meat can also be used. For human beings, the by-products are taken care of by a good sewage system and the dead bodies by funerals. In industrial countries, the average temperature over cities (e.g. London) goes up by a couple of degrees Fahrenheit, due to the use of coal. There is also the smoke, acid deposits that corrode buildings, carbon monoxide poisoning of the air by petrol fumes, and smog. These are trifling in comparison with the waste products of atomic power plants. The pile has to be very heavily shielded to screen harmful radiation. No one knows where to put the radioactive wastes from uranium piles. Every possible mine or pit is being rapidly filled up in the USA; the sea is unsafe, the rivers even more so. This is best brought out by the effects of atom-bomb tests. The fallout is found ah over the world. The Bikini tests made grass in California radioactive and poisoned fish that would otherwise have fed Japanese a few thousand miles away. Excessive doses of radioactivity always came serious changes in all living organisms. Some of these changes lie in the mechanism that enables the organism to breed. Most of these hereditary changes are lethal; that is, they kill the organisms born in the next generation. The Japanese have followed up persons exposed to atomic radiation at Hiroshima. Many of the children born to women who have been so exposed can hardly be called human; but they do not live to grow up. The real danger lies in the minute genetic change that does not show itself for some generations. It is known from experiments on smaller animals that these changes, when fully developed, may lead to incurable mental derangement within a few generations. By the time we know what the effect on mankind is going to be, it will be far too late to do anything about it. The changes will have been bred into millions of human beings of that generation and remain thereafter. This is not a disease, or an infection that I am talking about, but hereditary insanity, physical degeneracy, and worse. The only cure is to stop all atomic tests immediately, and to take great care that the waste pro- ducts of atomic power stations for peaceful purposes will be safely isolated. The advanced countries have quietly reduced their atomic power programs. The prestige of having atomic power stations does not compensate the extra expenditure or the extra danger involved,

Where does that leave us in India? We do need every available source of power quickly. Can we utilise atomic power for national progress? This question has already been answered in the affirmative by the high command. The papers inform us that another hundred crores or more are to be devoted to this purpose beyond undisclosed millions already spent. It was announced in August 1956 that India had joined the ranks of the atomic-energy producing countries. Actually, we were not then producing any atomic power. Though a second reactor costing another ten crores of rupees has gone into operation, and the staff has reached over two thousand highly trained graduates, we still, produce no utilisable atomic power. The setting up of atomic power stations in other countries is now quite easy. Even China has one giving 7000 kilowatts since last year, and may build more. The USA, UK, USSR, France, Canada and some other countries could build one or more for us--if we are willing to pay the cost. The question is whether this cost is worthwhile.

I do not propose to answer this question, because all of you here are intelligent to work out the answer for yourselves. But I do wish to point out that the main work in producing atomic energy has already been done without coat to India by a permanent source, which has only to be utilised properly. This generous source is the sun, which goes on pouring its blasting rays into every tropical country, at an uncomfortable rate. Can solar energy be used directly?

The answer is yes. The USA, Russia or England, for example do not receive so much direct solar radiation as India. There is no reason why we should ape them in all things, including the development of atomic energy at a fantastic cost with low-grade Indian uranium. On an average day, every hundred square metres (1100 square feet) of area will receive about 600-kilowatt hours of heat. This comes to over 160 pounds of high-grade coal, or more than 16 gallons of petrol, in energy equivalent. If it could all be utilised at 100% efficiency, we could evaporate some 240 gallons of water per day. At present, the best known efficiency of utilisation is by solar batteries, which are between 11% and 15% efficient. The Americans are already using such batteries to boost telephone currents in long-distance lines. If I could use such batteries on my own bungalow roof, it means 7 kilowatts for every hour of average sunshine, say 60-kilowatt hours per day. This would give my family enough power for all cooking, lights, hot water gadgets, (vacuum cleaner, fridge) air-conditioning, and still leave enough for an electric automobile run on storage batteries. The Russians produce enough steam power from solar energy to supply all the needs of a modern town of over 15,000 inhabitants in the southern USSR. Even as early as 1876, a 2.5-horsepower steam pump was run on solar heat in Bombay. A striking instance of the immense reach of solar power comes from the space-satellites, which send their information to earth by radio transmitters that run on solar batteries. The best of them continued to communicate with our globe from well over 20 million miles away.

It seems to me that research on the utilisation of solar radiation, where the fuel costs nothing at all, would be of immense benefit to India, whether or not atomic energy is used. But by research is not meant the writing of a few papers, sending favoured delegates to international conferences and pocketing of considerable research grants by those who can persuade complaisant politicians to sanction crores of the taxpayers' money. Our research has to be translated into use. The catch in solar energy is its storage. The current you may want at night can be produced irregularly in the daytime. This is not an insoluble difficulty. Quite efficient forms of storage batteries are known. It is possible to combine several uses with mechanical storage. For example, water could be pumped up into 50-foot village towers during sunlight hours, and then allowed to run out for irrigation, or home use, through low-pressure turbines that generate electricity whenever wanted. This is not very efficient at the second stage, but the main purpose of augmenting our poor water supply will have been efficiently served, village-by-village.

The most important advantage of solar energy would be decentralisation. To electrify India with a complete national grid would be difficult, considering our peculiar distribution of hydropower and thermal resources. With solar energy, you can supply power locally, with or without a grid. Solar power would be the best available source of energy for dispersed small industry and local use in India. If you really mean to have socialism in any form, without the stifling effects of bureaucracy and heavy initial investment, there is no other source so efficient. Take the simple problem of reforestation, which alone on change India's agriculture, preserve her rapidly eroding soil, and increase production. This problem is insoluble unless people have cheap fuel for cooking, so that they need not cut down trees. The solar cooker if it worked, would have been the answer. We know that the cooker produced some years ago with such fanfares and self-congratulations is useless. Even a schoolboy should have known that the pot at the focus of the solar cooker, being nickelled and polished, would reflect away most of the heat. But our foremost physicists and research workers, who rushed to claim personal credit and publicity, did not realise this. That is the result of paper research and research for advertisement. If we get over this fundamental hurdle, we have the real cost-free source of atomic power, the sun, at our disposal, for more than eight months of the year.

Solar energy is not something that any villager can convert for use with his own unaided efforts, at a negligible personal expenditure, charkha style. It means good science and first-rate technology whose results must be made available to the individual user. The solar water heater is the simplest to manufacture a black absorbing grid like an automobile radiator, and an insulated storage-tank. No moving parts are involved. The water can be delivered much hotter than needed for a bath, but below the boiling point. Such heaters are already used successfully in Israel and elsewhere, and would save a great deal of fuel by themselves in the Indian household. For the steam engine, it is necessary to concentrate the sun's rays, usually by a light silvered concave re- hector which moves with the sun. These are also quite practicable, and in use. Direct conversion of sunlight into electricity is familiar to many of us as the photoelectric cell, and the photometer used for correct exposure. These are very simple and efficient to use, but cost more money to make. The technique has now been simplified and the cost reduced by careful study of semi-conductors. The most effective solar battery of which I have any knowledge is based upon silicon-zinc crystals. Their production, too, is commercially successful, but needs still more research--which continues uninterrupted in other countries. The Chinese use semi-conductors directly to produce enough electricity even from the waste heat of an ordinary kerosene lamp to run a radio set; their appliances are on the international market now. What India could use best in this way still remains to be determined. The principle involved in the use of atomic energy produced by the sun as against that from atomic piles is parallel to that between small and large dams for irrigation. The large dam is very impressive to look at, but its construction and use mean heavy expenditure in one locality, and bureaucratic administration. The small bunding operation can be done with local labour, stops erosion of the soil, and can be fitted into any corner of the country where there is some rainfall. It solves two fundamental problems: how to keep the rain-water from flowing off rapidly into the sea, unused; and how to encourage local initiative while giving direct economic gain to the small producer. The great dams certainly have their uses, but no planners should neglect proper emphasis upon effective construction of the dispersed small dams. What is involved is not merely agriculture and manufacture, but a direct road to socialism.

Every notable advance in man's control over new sources of energy has been hampered by outworn superstition or obsolete social forms. Fire is regarded today as a convenient tool it the service of humanity. Primitive man thought ii necessary to worship fire as a god. Agni received human and animal sacrifice; vestal virgins might be dedicated to his service. Is it less miserable a superstition that calls for the sacrifice of millions of men and animals, living or as yet unborn, to atomic tests and radio- active fallout? It seemed inevitable to Victorian England that dreadful industrial slums should accompany the first large scale use of the steam engine; it also seemed necessary to conquer many colonies for supply of raw materials and as market for the finished goods of the factories that the steam engine first made possible. We claim to know better now. If so, has the time not come to change society so that the new discoveries will serve the needs of all mankind rather than the perverted greed of the few? Then, and only then, will it be possible to determine how much effort should be spent relatively on the development of the various.

The Marxist Historian

A short newspaper bio of DD Kosambi.

By Prajal Sakhardande

Mr Antonio Pereira Dangui, a friend from Benaulim lamented that we had forgotten a great Goan, Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi and it is very pertinent I pay a tribute to this great Goan Marxist historian on the occasion of the birth centenary year of this man who stands tall in the realm of ancient history.

Born at Kusman-Quepem, a beautiful village located on the banks of the river Kushawati, the late D D Kosambi, as he is popularly known, would have completed hundred on July 31. He was born on July 31, 1907.

Recently I had the fortune of buying a copy of D D Kosambi’s book titled ‘Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture’, at a bookstalls in Poona. As a student of the refresher course in History I was the student of D D Kosambi’s daughter Ms Meera Kosambi a well-know historian herself. As students of history at the Goa University we attended the D D Kosambi Memorial lectures. The History Department of the Goa University should organise lecture series to commemorate the birth centenary year of this great Goan historian. That would be a befitting tribute to D D Kosambi. His books on ancient Indian History include: ‘An introduction to the Study of Indian History’, ‘The Culture and Civilization of ancient India - a Historical Outline’, and ‘Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture’. Mr J Clement Vaz writes of Kosambi describing him as a renowned Indologist who pioneered the theory of finding the period of a civilization from analysis of ancient coins found without any inscriptions or date markings or legends. By a statistical study of the weights of the coins, he was able to establish the period of time they were in circulation and could accordingly date them. His historical writings provide an insight to his contribution to the new approach to history in which he would depend also on collected material through pioneer work in archaeology and ethnography. His wide study of ancient Sanskrit texts was truly remarkable as was his translation of Kautilyas Arthashastra the ancient treatise on political economy written in the 4th century BC.

Damodar D Kosambi was a scholar of international repute. He was invited by reputed international academic institutions to deliver lectures especially in the US and UK. In India in 1946 Dr Homi Bhabha invited him to join the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research as Professor of Mathematics where he worked for 26 years and did commendable work in that period. His autobiographical essay, ‘Steps in Science’, reveals him as a brave non-conformist who stood up against all forms of obscurantist orthodoxy. His father the great Buddhist-Pali scholar Dharmanand Kosambi is a well-known name in Sri Lanka. The son Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi or D D Kosambi lived up to his fathers name and achieved great heights as a scientist, mathematician, numismatist and Marxist historian. Let us celebrate this great Goan. History teachers in schools, colleges, and universities should make their students aware of the contributions of this eminent scholar. On June 29, 1966 he passed away at Poona at the age of 59. His mothers name was Balabai, wife was Nalini, daughter Meera and sisters Manik and Manorama.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Kosambi on Chanakya

But who was Chanakya or Kautilya? We know nothing about his personal life. We have some details about Chandragupta Maurya from Greek sources, who refer to him as Sandrokottos. But even these reports survive as fragmented quotations in other works- the original is untraceable. As D D Kosambi points out, as far as Chanakya is concerned, we only have legends fictionalized through the famous Sanskrit play, Mudra Rakshasa, written by Visakhadatta in the fourthcentury AD.

Romilla Thapar on DD Kosambi

Kosambi’s rich legacy unfolds as historian analyses his works

Romila Thapar traces academician’s contribution to ancient Indian history; UoP honours him through research chair, book

Express News Service

Pune, July 31: CASTE cannot be understood in terms of rigid categories, but as complex concepts that evolve through social change and subtle interactions between communities leading to the domination of one over the other.”

This basic principle used by noted academician DD Kosambi was highlighted by historian and Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Romila Thapar, as she delivered the DD Kosambi Memorial Lecture at the SM Joshi Foundation Hall on Tuesday.

Addressing a packed auditorium on the topic ‘Legacy of Prof. DD Kosambi in the Study of Ancient Indian History’, Thapar spoke about Kosambi’s work on the interactions between the Dasa and Aryan communities. “Kosambi had pointed out that though the Dasas had a lower status in most of the Vedic literature of the later era, there existed a category of so-called Dasyaputra Brahmanas, who were essentially Brahmins born of the Dasi women,” said Thapar, adding that there was evidence of India as a matrilineal society, wherein the men took the names of their mothers, which slowly later adapted to a more patriarchal culture.

Talking about the distinctions drawn between the communities over time, Thapar said that the cattle raids by the Aryans to secure the pastoral wealth of the Dasas, difference in rituals, as well as physical characteristics like colour, determined the change in mutual perceptions and treatment as the “other”.

The manner in which new technologies like the use of iron were appropriated and used also determined the dominion of one group over the other, said Thapar. “Parallels to this can be found in contemporary society with the advancement in information technology among certain groups,” she said.

Thus, the subtle layers of interaction among various communities needed to be analysed to gain an understanding of Indian society. “Simply to say that A conquered B is not adequate,” said Thapar.

Explaining Kosambi’s unique method of analysis using Marxist theories to interpret history, Thapar said that Kosambi studied whether Marx’s slave model could be equated with the shudra labour system in India. “He did not find similarities, and he was disdainful of attempts to apply the slave model to the Indian context without any analysis by what he called Official Marxists (OM),” said Thapar.

Thapar also spoke on Kosambi’s work in studying links between the Buddhist monasteries and trade, especially the trade routes via the caves in the Konkan region and the Western Ghats, which contain evidence of Buddhist inscriptions. She also highlighted Kosambi’s research on feudalism in India.

Commending Kosambi’s work, Pune University Vice Chancellor Narendra Jadhav said that while he would be commemorated through research conducted through the newly formed DD Kosambi Chair for history at the varsity, the University would also publish a Gaurav Granth, a book in honour of Kosambi. “This book will be published at the end of the centenary year on July 31 next year,” said Jadhav.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Urvasi Myth

by Prabhaker Acharya

This paper examines Prof. D. D. Kosambi’s analysis of the Urvasi legend in the Rgveda. The purpose is to draw attention to some of the qualities that made him one of our leading thinkers.

The distinguishing feature of Prof. D. D. Kosambi’s work – in history, anthropology, archaeology, numismatics or mathematics – was his passionate involvement with his subject. Passion, precision, and brilliant flights of imaginative reasoning - these are some of the qualities that made him one of the intellectual giants of his time. All these qualities are much in evidence in his treatment of the Urvasi legend.

Kosambi was intrigued and fascinated by a passage in the Rgveda, a dialogue between Urvasi and Pururavas, which he found “totally foreign in appearance to anything else in the Rgveda.” He published a paper on it in 1951, transliterating the whole passage – all eighteen verses – into Roman script, and also giving a literal prose translation and a commentary. Ten years later, this became ‘Urvasi and Pururavas’, the second chapter of his monumental work, Myth and Reality.

The chapter begins with a summary of Vikramorvasiyam: “One of Kalidasa’s finest plays, Vikramorvasiyam, has for its theme the love, separations, and final reunion of King Pururavas…and the nymph Urvasi. The apsaras, on her way to heaven, is abducted by the demon Kesi, from whose clutches the mortal king rescues her. This led to their falling in love… She is recalled to heaven, to act the part of Laksmi in a play staged before Indra. But the divine stage-director Bharata sentences her to assume human form for mispronouncing Visnu’s name Purusottama as Pururavas. The curse is no great burden, as it enables her to mate with Pururavas, but the course of their true love is interrupted again and again. The heroine is turned into a vine, because of an unwitting transgression… But she is changed back and restored to her husband by a charmed jewel. The jewel is stolen by a bird of prey; the bird is shot dead by an arrow bearing a legend which tells the king that Urvasi has borne him a son. This means another reunion, which would be terminated by Urvasi’s restoration to heaven; but Indra, having a war on his hands, allows her to remain on earth till her husband’s death.” Though Kosambi says that “this crude analysis of a beautiful play by one of the world’s great poets and India’s great dramatist does no justice to the consummate skill with which the theme is handled,” it is, in fact, a brilliant summary of a very complex plot.

But Kosambi’s chief interest is in the theme of the play, the Urvasi legend, which he traces back to our oldest extant records, Satapatha Brahmana and the Rgveda. The dialogue in the Rgveda begins abruptly, with Pururavas’s pleading: “Alas, O wife, desist from your intentions. O dreadful one, let us discourse together. If our chants remain unuttered, they will bear no fruit for distant days.” Urvasi replies, “What shall I do with these discourses of yours? I have gone over like the first of the Usas. O Pururavas, go back to your destiny; I am as hard to catch as the wind.” But Pururavas speaks of his “heroic determination,” and of moving “like an arrow to a target.” A third voice – obviously a chorus – speaks of their union. Then Urvasi says: “Thrice a day didst thou ram me with thy member, and impregnated me unwilling as I was. Pururavas, I yielded to thy desires; O hero, then wert thou king of my body”. Pururavas says: “She flashed like falling lightning, bringing me the craved waters – from the water was born a noble lad. May Urvasi grant long life.”

But there is a change in the situation now. Urvasi says: “I, the initiate, warned you on that very day. Thou didst not listen to me, why dost thou now speak like an innocent?” When Pururavas pleads that his son will yearn for his father and shed tears, she says, “he will not cry, heedful of my sacred office…Go to thy destiny, thou fool, thou canst not reach me.”

Pururavas raves at first, “there is no friendship with womenfolk, their hearts are the hearts of hyenas”, and then calms down: “I, the best of men, submit to the atmosphere-filling, sky-crossing Urvasi. May the blessings of good deeds be thine; turn back, my heart is heated (with fear).” Urvasi says: “Thus speak these gods to thee, son of Ila: inasmuch as thou art now doomed to death, thy offspring will offer sacrifice to the gods, but thou thyself rejoice in heaven.”

I have, for the sake of brevity and clarity, dropped a few lines, and added a couple of comments, making, perhaps, the passage less baffling than it actually is. The passage did baffle all later writers and commentators. The Satapatha Brahmana tried to make sense out of it by giving it a ‘setting’. In this episode Urvasi loves Pururavas but accepts him as her husband on the condition that she should never see him naked. She lives with him for a long time and is with child by him. The Gandharvas, who want her back, contrive a situation where Pururavas’s nakedness is revealed to her by a flash of lightening. She leaves him. As he is wandering distraught near a lake, Urvasi, swimming there in the form of a swan with other nymphs, sees him. She reveals herself to him, and then follows a dialogue very similar to the passage in the Rgveda.

The modern commentators of the passage, Kosambi feels, have nothing much to offer by way of explanation. To Keith the hymn was simply about “one of those alliances of nymphs and men, which are common in all literature.” The trouble with this, says Kosambi, is that it explains nothing. If the legend is common, and primitive, it has to have some fairly deep significance. What is that significance? Geldner, whose main service was a painstaking report on the principal versions of the story, still had no proper explanation of the original legend to offer. Oldenburg and some others thought that the passage was obscure because some prose passage was missing. Max Muller had a very simple formula. To him ‘Urvasi loves Pururavas’ meant ‘the sun rises’; ‘Urvasi sees Pururavas naked’ meant ‘the dawn is gone’; and so on. Though Kosambi values Muller’s substantial contribution to Indic philology, he has only contempt for this kind of “fatuous equivalence”. A healthy irreverence for established ‘authorities’ is one of Kosambi’s strengths. He is often blamed for his irreverent attitude to the Vedas. What he has is love, not reverence. Reverence does not open doors. Love does.

What is Kosambi’s explanation? It is a simple but startling one. He says that it “derives from as literal a reading as possible, with the ambiguities left unresolved till the end, and then determined - as far as possible – by taking the sense of the whole” – surely a sensible thing to do. He thinks that Pururavas is to be sacrificed after begetting a son from Urvasi; in the dialogue he pleads with her, in vain, to spare his life. What we have here, according to Kosambi, is a primitive ritual, a fertility myth, well-known to anthropologists. The Goddess of fertility or mother-goddess was represented by her priestess. A man was chosen to be her husband for a year, and then sacrificed. The ritual, a primitive one, must have become obsolete during the Vedic times but the myth survived. (The passage is a perfect example of a myth, because an ancient Greek definition of myth is ‘the things which are spoken in rituals acts’.)

So the Urvasi passage can be seen as a dialogue between the priestess and her husband, to be used in a liturgical play. What is missing is perhaps stage-direction for the mime, and not some prose narrative. So Kosambi’s conclusion is that Kalidasa’s play is very naturally based upon the oldest of plays.

Before arriving at this conclusion, and after, Kosambi gives us a plethora of information, explanations and insights that are simply mind-boggling in their range and depth. His comments on Kalidasa’s other plays, for example, are perceptive – especially the off-the-cuff remark that in Sakuntala the Urvasi myth is neatly reversed, the mortal king rejecting the apsaras-born Sakuntala. But perhaps the most heavily loaded – and fascinating – part of this chapter is the one where he identifies Urvasi with Usas, the goddess of dawn, and explores the position of Usas as a mother-goddess. Why is this goddess of dawn so prominent in the Rgveda? There are twenty-one complete hymns dedicated to her. But she lost her importance after Indra vanquished her and she fled in fright, leaving her wagon smashed to bits on the river Vipas. “Indra”, says Kosambi “is the young god, one whose birth is mentioned several times, and who takes the lead…because of his prowess in battle. In fact, he reflects the typical Aryan tribal war-chieftain, irresistible in strife after getting drunk on Soma.” Usas, on the other hand, is an ancient goddess. What happens is “a clash of cults, that of the old mother-goddess being crushed on the river Beas by the new war-god of the patriarchal invaders, Indra.”

But the cult survived, and got assimilated in the new order. It even gave birth, according to Kosambi, to two Brahmin clans, the Vasisthas and the Agastyas. The flight of imaginative reasoning with which Kosambi reconciles the multiple account of Vasistha’s birth in the Rgveda is admirable. Vasistha was born of the apsaras; he was culled by the gods from a lotus pond; he was born from the seed of Mitra and Varuna poured into a kumbha. All this is reconciled when it is realized that the apsaras is a water goddess (like the Nereids) and the “kumbha is itself the mother-goddess”. Kosambi points out that the Katha-sarit-sagara equates the kumbha or ghata explicitly to the uterus; and of how the Navaratri fertility festival to all mother-goddesses begins on the first of Asvin with ghatastapana, the installing of a fertility jar. The kumbha as a representation of a mother goddess still survives in many south Indian festivals. Kosambi gives a detailed account of the Karaga at Bangalore, the special annual fertility rite of the Tigalas, as an example.

Vasistha’s birth in a kumbha, according to Kosambi, suggests that he is of non-Aryan origin. So also is the other jar-born sage, Agastya, who “nourished two colours” (ubhau varnau puposa) where the two varnas, Kosambi opines, “cannot mean two castes, but both Aryans and non-Aryans, for he belonged to both, and his hymns show clearly the character of the compromise.” Kosambi wonders whether the Agastyan penetration of the South is just a myth or a historical fact.

What about Urvasi and Pururavas? Primitive rites are never completely erased from racial memory. So Kosambi suggests that even the custom of Sati might be an inversion of the older sacrifice of the husband. He reminds us of the ancient but still recited marriage hymn from the Rgveda, which admonishes the bride: ‘a-pati-ghni-edhi,’ meaning ‘become a non-husband-killer.’ “This excellent advice,” says Kosambi “is followed up with an invocation to Indra to give her ten sons and to make her husband the eleventh. This would carry the proper meaning only in a society which had not completely forgotten that the husband was once sent to the gods in sacrifice, but never the son.” I think Kosambi has gone overboard here. The interpretation of ‘a-pati-ghni-edhi’ is Kosambi’s, and suits his thesis, but most would read it as ‘a-pat-agni-eti’, meaning, ‘may your house-fire remain burning.’ At the time when there were no matches, and a housewife’s primary duty was to guard the house-fire and keep it burning, ‘a-pat-agni-eti’ would have been an appropriate blessing for the bride.

What can one say about a book that holds such an incredible wealth of knowledge and insight? It is like a kumbha – like the one Vasistha and Agastya came from - filled to the brim with grain, but packed so tight it is difficult to take the grain out. Kosambi’s book is not an easy one to read. His brilliant, coruscating mind emits sparks of insight in every page - sparks that could have ignited the imagination of other writers, if only the book were more accessible.

Igniting the imagination. One notable instance of that is worth recording. Kosambi’s paper of 1951 inspired one Mr. Beram Saklatwala, born and educated in U.K., working as the Managing Director of Tata Ltd., London, to write a long narrative poem - in 120 decasyllabic lines - titled ‘Urvasi and Pururavas.’ I quote a single stanza from it:

Ah, love, the goddess said, “You did embrace

And take me wholly, as a living fire.

Unwilling was my body, and my face

Turned from you, yet I yielded to your desire.

Though I a goddess, you were king of all

My body’s realm, and held me in your thrall.”

The poem is a well-written one, though its Tennysonian mellifluousness is no improvement on the simple, sensuous and nascent lines of the Rgveda. But what Mr. Saklatwala says about Kosambi in his introductory remarks is worth quoting:

“I first met him when he was in England as a guest of the British Council to give a series of lectures, to which he invited me. I knew him by repute as a mathematician and therefore declined to go to the lectures…He told me that in fact his lectures were to be on the subject of Mesolithic archaeology. It was thus for the first time that I realized how broad were his interests and how complete a polymath he was. His interests were extra-ordinarily wide-ranging. When I took him to Salisbury Plain to show him the great monument of Stonehenge, I found he was familiar with all the background and all the interpretations put upon the monument by English antiquarians since the 17th Century. He was well-read in Medieval Latin texts, an authority on the punch-mark coins of Western Asia, skilled in the science of genetics. Like a latter-day Lord Bacon, he had taken all learning to be his province. He was not only learned, but a stimulator of learning in others.”

Prabhaker Acharya is the author of The Suragi Tree, published by Mapin. His second novel, Manu in Kishkindha, is ready for publication. He lives at Ambalpady, a small village near Udupi. Email:

Monday, July 30, 2007

Seminar on DD Kosambi

A report by Prof KP Rao posted as a comment here:

The seminar to commemorate the centenary of Prof. DD Kosambi, “Remembering Kosamb i” was conducted between 9-30 AM and 4-30 PM on 22 nd July 2007 in the premises of Manipal Institute of Communication.
- Hide quoted text -
We had about 50 people attending the proceedings and most of them were from the academic world.

We had breakfast at 9-30.

The proceedings started with no prayer/invocation, no lighting lamps, on the dot at 10.00

The deliberations were planned into 3 parts to cover the person and life of Kosambi, the work of Kosambi and the vision of Kosambi.

Prof. K P Rao gave a brief speech on the life, education and career of Prof. Kosambi. Personal references were avoided and what Damodar Kosambi inherited from his father, what influenced him, how he got interested in History and Indology, the persons that he came across, his career as a teacher and later an employee at TIFR, his friends and enemies at TIFR, post TIFR life etc. were highlighted.

Prof. Surendra Rao of Mangalore University conducted the next part.

He introduced Prof. Hayavadana Upadhyaya who talked on the class, caste and slavery in ancient India. He briefly mentioned Prof. DD Kosambi’s concern for the underprivileged and also observed that not much has changed even in modern times.

Prof. Stephan Vadakkan (professor of Mathematics) of Manipal talked on KKL functions and their application in data encryption and computers. He touched upon the point as to how a forgotten work of Prof. Kosambi was recognized and revived and due credit was given to him

Prof. Prabhakar Acharya, novelist and English teacher talked on the Urvasi myth, the original v/s the interpretation by Kosambi, as done in the second chapter of the book Myth and Reality. The brilliant capability to summarize classical works was also highlighted. He found it impressive that some one like Mr. Beram Sakatwala should be inspired to write a poem on Urvasi.

Prof. Surendra Rao welcomed Prof. Peter Claus, Anthropologist from the California Sate University who had just walked in.

Prof. Surendra Rao talked on the problems the historian faces in documenting events and on the value of progressive methods in History research.

Prof. Arun Kumar of MGM College and Mr. Tonse Krishna Bhat presented a paper on the role of fieldwork in many a field with special reference to the region of Udupi where such work was put to use. They cited the example of some local rituals where the procedures had to be reconstructed from collective memory and also referred to the Tulu lexicon project where most of the words had to be taken entirely on the basis of fieldwork rather than written documents. They also talked on the qualities of a good field worker and cited the examples of Prof. Kosambi, Prof. Sontheimer, Prof Honko and Prof. Claus.

Prof. Peter Claus talked briefly on his interest and knowledge of Kosambi and said how he was to participate in a joint research project with Prof. Sontheimer (who was guided by Prof. Kosambi) on Khandoba cult, and that the project was abandoned due to the sudden demise of Prof. Sontheimer.

Prof M G Narasimhan of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, conducted the after lunch session.

The first presentation was by Prof. N A Madhyastha. He described the importance of calculation of linkage distances in chromosomes especially as an important tool in the pre DNA structure days and how the Kosambi-Haldane formula helped achieving this.

Prof. Kesavan Veluthat of Mangalore University gave a talk on DD Kosambi in Indian Historiography. He talked about the importance of understanding and analysing DD Kosambi’s contribution at the time when they were put forth rather than now, and said that they were really original, path breaking and revolutionary for his time. He explained in detail the dedications of Kosambi’s works and how they indicate his attitude to people. Kosambi’s contribution to understanding the Harappan Culture, the Vedic Society, The eastward expansion in the puranic period, the function of the Mauryan Empire, the concept of feudalism from above etc. were discussed in detail.

Prof. K G Vasantha Madahava gave an introduction to DDKosambi.

Prof. Phaniraj revisited the pioneering Marxist scholar’s review articles on ‘Official Marxist’ thinking. He spoke on the need of finding open ended answers to Kosambi’s own stated positions on politics, his ideas on India’s ruling class and his expectations of Marxist leadership in light of his own frame work of criticism.

Prof. MG Narasimhan spoke on the science revolution, its gains and losses and the need to keep the balance right for obtaining progress and benefit to society. He talked on Prof. Kosambi’s concern for peace and harmony amongst common men as the prime criterion of healthy society and how this becomes and has to become the basic vision of everyone concerned.

In his valedictory remarks Prof. Rao briefly touched upon the Bhabha-Kosambi controversy and said how this should be viewed by historians as a classic case of clash between two towering personalities each great in his own way. He mentioned the legacy of DD Kosambi and spoke on the 13 Part TV serial that was produced by late Dr. Arvind N Das and dedicated to Prof. Kosambi. A mention of Dr. Arvind Gupta of Pune, an ardent admirer of DD Kosambi was also made. Copies of the serial were made available to those interested.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Seminars to focus on Kosambi

A report from the ToI:

Various events are being planned in different parts of the country in the birth centenary year of eminent Marxist historian Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi.

Kosambi is best recognised for his work on the Marxist interpretation of Indian history. In a glowing tribute to Kosambi, eminent Indologist A.L. Basham had described the 'Introduction
to the Study of Indian History' as "an epoch making work containing brilliant, original ideas on almost every page."

R.P. Nene, former member of the all-India committee of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, said that along with Kosambi's daughter, well-known sociologist Meera Kosambi, a committee of scholars was being put together to plan seminars on the Marxist historian's work.
"In Pune, we hope to organise at least six lectures, one every two months, if not more. We are also planning to invite eminent historians such as Irfan Habib and Romila Thapar," Nene said.

The veteran activist said that although three generations of the Kosambi family have taught at the Fergusson College, and Prof Kosambi also taught at the University of Pune, the city has failed to celebrate his eminence.

"This is partly because he was a Marxist and partly because he was short-tempered. His expectations were very high and he was very difficult to get along with," Nene said.

Arvind Gupta, another Kosambi admirer who is famous for teaching science through toys said,
"His way of looking at history was extraordinary. He taught us that history is not linear. So many of our present-day beliefs have their roots in ancient history. We can look at these beliefs and then understand history."

Gupta, who is head of the Muktangan science exploratorium for children at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, has also planned to organise some events in Kosambi's memory during his birth centenary year.

information from ;

Kosambi on Marxist approach to Indian History

DD Kosambi on Marxist approach to Indian history.
When serious scholars like D.D. Kosambi tried to apply Marxian approach to Indian history, they found themselves in great difficulty. In 1951, Kosambi tried to examine Marxist approach to Indian chronology (Annals of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 31 pp. 258-66) as presented by a Russian scholar D.A. Suleiken in 1949 and found it ‘dangerously misleading’ (Kosambi’s Omnibus, OUP 2005, p. 49). In his seminal work, An Introduction to the Study of Indian History (first published in 1956, sixth reprint 1993) Kosambi rejected many of Marx’s statements about India. Kosambi wrote: “India had never a classical slave economy in the same sense as Greece or Rome” (p. 11). Kosambi was at a loss what to make of Marx’s famous theory of the “Asiatic Mode of Production”. He says, “What Marx himself said about India cannot be taken as it stands.” Kosambi, who is considered to be the father of Marxist historiography on India, emphatically rejects Marx’s view of Indian history. He writes: “We cannot let pass without challenge Marx’s statement, “Indian society has no history at all… unchanging (village) society.” Kosambi says, “In fact, the greatest periods of Indian history, the Mauryans, the Satavahanas, the Guptas owed nothing to intruders, they mark precisely the formation and spread of the basic village society, or the development of new trade centers” (ibid, pp 11-12). Kosambi was of firm view, that: “The adoption of Marx’s thesis does not mean blind repetition of all his conclusions (and even less, those of the official party line Marxists at all times)” (p. 10).

DD Kosambi Centenary

Manipal Institute of Communications is hosting a one- day seminar on 22nd July (Sunday), a week or so before the birth centenary of the great historian and mathematician. Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi was born on 31st July 1907.
A one-day seminar in English will be held at Manipal Institute of Communication on 22nd July 2007. Some well-known historians and distinguished scholars in other disciplines are participating in the seminar. Discussions and presentations would include the life, work and vision of Prof. Kosambi. The relevance of Professor Kosambi’s work today and the paradigm changes his line of thought introduced into Numismatics, History, Culture and Scientific temperament would be discussed.

A few episodes of a 13 part serial named “India Invented” produced by Dr. Arvind N Das and dedicated to Prof. Kosambi would also be screened...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Review of Study of Indian History

Kosambi is a master of all he surveys in this book - his dexterity, scholarship and decisive judgments reminded me of Eric Hobsbawm. The book is fascinating in many respects - the choice of photographs, the detailed endnotes, the insistence on deducing historical information from observing ritual and practice among the various castes and tribes in India, the obvious comfort with the ancient history of Iran and the near east, the deep knowledge of Sanskrit and Sanskrit literature, Kosambi's scientific studies of coin hoards etc. His contempt for poor scholarship is expressed without reservation and with caustic precision. His writing is terse and elegant. It often rises to the eminently quotable:

  • Chapter 1, Note 11, on sources of information about castes and tribes:
The Indian decennial Census reports are useful before 1951, when the whole idea of classification by caste was officially abandoned as a Canutian method of abolishing caste distinctions.

  • Chapter 3, Section 3.1, p.51, describing the blocks of 12' x 20' two-room tenements discovered during excavations at Mohenjodaro and Harappa:
These were called 'coolie lines' by the excavators, whose ingenuity had found modern names for the streets, but rarely any explanation beyond the mental reach of an Imperial Briton.

read on

A Touching Dedication

I was reading an anthology of a Indian historian- cum- mathematician- cum- statistician: D.D. Kosambi. The book is called "Combined methods in Indology and other writings". The first chapter is an introduction to how Mr. Kosambi worked and how his work is important in the present day context with respect to Indology. Then comes the part of the personality of Mr. Kosambi, where his love and care for his family members, friends, and peers are brought out. In writing that the author takes out a dedication of Mr. Kosambi. Here goes that dedication.

"At a time when my health and finances were both ruined, and the work would have been suspended, she put at my disposal, unsolicited, the meagre savings of a lifetime devoted to the service of her children. To these funds, given without condition in the disappointed hope that I should use them to improve my health, this edition owes its very existence. A matron in the noblest Indian tradition, one to whom even Bhaasa's broken hero of the shattered thigh, abandoned on the field of
battle, might pray with his dying breath, 'If merit be mine and rebirth fall to my lot, be thou again my mother', she deserves to have a far better work dedicated to her, just as she deserves a far better son. However, if she will condone the shortcomings of the book as she has those of the child, both are hers."

Kosambi on Jnaneshwar

As the historian D. D. Kosambi wrote, “Though an adept in yoga as a path towards physical immortality and mystical perfection, there was nothing left for [Jnanesvar] except suicide.” The ideas were glorious, but there was no institutional platform to realize them.
Letter to an American Hindu

Kosambi on Dange

Secondly we were also aware of the most fundamental criticism made by Professor. D.D. Kosambi on Mr. S.A. Dange in connection with the latter’s work ‘India primitive communism to slavery’. Professor Kosambi wrote that in order to defend Engels he had to deny Dange. Dange’s work was unquestionably a caricature of Engel’s work. Further the communist party too never bothered to examine Dange’s credentials as a Marxist. That it could not do so also was not in any way a surprise.

That was precisely because none of its leaders could be called a Marxist. The leadership neither had the ability to teach nor the humility to learn. Further we also did not like the insolent manner Dange answered. Finally Kosambi called Dange a bourgeoisie peddler. Very soon (1955) we arrived at the conclusion that the Indian Communist party for all intents and purposes had abandoned the very idea of a popular revolution. It was just nominally a communist party. It is so
to this date.

read more at Eastern Voice

Monday, April 30, 2007

Sham Lal on DD Kosambi

Braveheart reads Sham Lal's writings on DD Kosambi.

That night when I flipped through the pages, I saw how the high and mighty in the world of ideas and politics had been made into mince meat in the books. I vividly remember reading the acidic remarks on Marxist historian D D Kosambi's book - Introduction to the Study of History:

"We need not dilate too long on the slant or the bias in Kosambi's judgments. All that he wants to tell us is that all we have is the earth. The sky is there, but its deep blue is a fiction... Those who look for the heartbeats of an age not in its wage bills and sale deed but in its art and religion may at times get impatient with Kosambi...Those who look for poetry in history itself will search in vain."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Kosambi on the Role of Gita

Aniruddha Kulkarni, while reading The Last Mughal thinks that the controversy behind calling the events of 1857 as a Mutiny or the first War of Indian Independence is meant to hide the
suffering of the ordinary people during those days.
Therefore, you wonder if D D Kosambi amongst all is closest to the truth when he says: “It seems to me that Gita philosophy, like so much else in India’s ‘spiritual’ heritage, is based in the final analysis upon the inability to satisfy more than the barest material needs of a large number”

There could be many Quixotian solutions to this. Use politically correct language. Stop calling poor, poor! Stop calling third class compartment, third class. That is what Indian Railway did when one day they just erased one line from III to make it II!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Essay on 'Indian Feudalism'

Read DD Kosambi's essay on 'Indian Feudalism' at google books (in Rural Sociology in India by AR Desai).
Indian Feudalism differs so much from its European counterpart, at least as regards superficial manifestations, that the very existence of feudalism in India has sometimes been denied, except to describe the Muslim and Rajput military hierarchies.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Inventing India: A Documentary based on the works by Kosambi

Arvind N Das, who died seven years ago at a tragically young age at 52, nevertheless packed a lot in his intense life. A product of the "Spring Thunder over India" in the late 1960s, he was part of the brilliant team at the Times of India in the late 1980s which is when one became acquainted with his insightful writings.

Trained as a historian, he moved, first to print journalism and then to the medium of TV setting up Asia Pacific Communications to produce a nuanced documentary on the history of India. In the documentary, as in his writings, he showed himself as a student of DD Kosambi to whom he dedicated the documentary that appeared in 13 parts on Doordarshan. He remained an engaged social historian in the tradition of DD Kosambi and EP Thompson.

In his book "India Invented", he made the observation that India is not something waiting to be discovered, as Jawaharlal Nehru had treated it in his Discovery of India, but something that is to be constantly invented in the process of understanding it- that was his statement of praxis.

The first part of the documentary is now available at google videos. It is also available from Asia Pacific Communications and can be ordered, I believe, from the address given at the google videos site.

Link to Google Videos

Needless to say, it is a very ennobling, and educative experience to be able to watch this documentary once again. One of the best in the series is the one where Das delves into the emergence and decadence of Buddhism (part 5), though this one doesn't seem to be available online as yet. DD Kosambi had himself written very insightfully on the decline of Buddhism in India in his collection of essays Exasperating Essays.

Cross posted here

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Doing Business for the Lord

Doing Business for the Lord: Lending on Interest and Written Loan Contracts in the Mulasarvastivada-Vinaya by Gregory Schopen; The Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 114, 1994, makes a reference to Kosambi's insight on the importance of Chinese records to understand Indian history.
Scholars working on China have in fact very often been the first to introduce and make available important Indian material bearing on the institutional and economic history of Buddhism, but this material rarely, or never, makes it into Indian studies. References to Gernet's Les Aspects economiques du bouddhisme, for example, are extremely rare in works on Indian cultural and economic history. D. D. Kosambi long ago referred to Gernet when he raised the "fundamental question" of the extent to which Buddhist monks and monasteries in India participated directly in trade. "The documentary evidence" for such participation, Kosambi said, "exists at the other end of the Buddhist world, in Chinese records and translations," of the sort presented by Gernet.(7) But few have followed this up.

J.D. Bernal: A Centernary Tribute

Arjun Patel, an experimental scientist, pays a tribute to JD Bernal and recalls his association with DD Kosambi.

The other episode relates to Kosambi. Bernal introduced A.R. Vasudev Murthy (a chemist and sanskritist) of Indian Institute of Science to D.D.Kosambi (Bernal uses Kosambi’s characterization of science as the ‘cognition of necessity’ in Science in History) during the Indian Science Congress in Poona in 1950. Kosambi told Vasudev Murthy that he intended to make a study of Indian history on the lines given in Engels’ “Origin of the family, private property and the state”. It was in this way that Kosambi’s collaborations with the scientific community in Bangalore began and stimulated them in lively debates on the social functions of science and the culture and civilization of ancient India, the outcome being Kosambi’s widely read monographs on the subject.

India's Lopsided Science

Dhirendra Sharma on India's lopsided science program makes a reference to Kosambi's tenure at TIFR
In 1962, Prof D.D. Kosambi was removed from the senior fellowship at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, for questioning high expenditures on atomic energy research and development. Kosambi made a brave but unsuccessful attempt to take up where Saha left off, trying to maintain an open and participatory system. It is difficult to find critics of Kosambi's stature in Indian science today.

Tamil Traditions on Subrahmanya­-Murugan

Kamil V. Zvelebil : An Introduction to the Tamil Traditions of Subramanya- Murugan

On the other hand, one must be careful not to succumb to the "habitual failing of the philologist whose learned candour leads him to infer that all things have their beginning from the time of their first mention in the texts."[10] We must avoid the 'tunnel vision' (D.D. Kosambi) of armchair Indologists who avoid any disagreeable contact with fieldwork - with anthropology, sociology, folklore, or reality at large. The long and exclusive concentration of such scholars on written, particularly Sanskrit, rahmin-produced documents seems to have impaired their ability to distinguish between myth and reality.

The German Connection

In Dr. Gunther-Dietz Sontheimer, who travelled to India at least 35 times in a span f 27 years of active academic life at the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University, we find a scholar who was completely different. He was one Indologist who, under the inspiration of mathematician, archaeologist and historian D.D. Kosambi, developed a deep interest in folk religion and mythology as well as the regional roots of Indian cultural traditions. This had convinced him about these traditions, especially the ritual and mythology of Hinduism, being rich tapestries woven with varied regional, tribal, pastoral and agrarian elements.

K.M. Shrimali reviews three anthologies and intersperses with references to Kosambi

On the Birthplace of the Plough

The plough in the Indus valley remained an enigma for a long time. D.D Kosambi assumed that the Indus people practiced neither canal irrigation nor ploughing and that was a culture without a plough.[1] The plough that the Aryans brought with them effected a change in the agricultural technology, he realized.
Read on

An Asian Framework for Governance

The Arthasastra was written by Canakya or Kautalya around the fourth century BC. One of the eminent historians of Indian History, D D Kosambi, has observed that

The title Arthasastra means `The science of material gain'¡Xfor a very special type of state, not for the individual. The end was always crystal clear. Means used to attain it needed no justification. There is not the least pretence of morality or altruism. [In the Arhtasastra] the only difficulties ever discussed, no matter how gruesome and treacherous the methods, are practical, with due consideration to costs and possible effects... Espionage and the constant use of agent-provecateurs is recommended on massive and universal scale by the Arthasastra. The sole purpose of every action was safety and profit of the state. Abstract questions of ethics are never raised or discussed in the whole book. Murder, poison, subversion were used at need by the king's secret agents, methodically and without a qualm... Strife for the throne is treated as a minor occupational hazard by Canakya. No regard to morality or filial piety is ever questioned. He quotes a predecessor's axiom; `Princes, like crabs, are father eaters¡K' The eleventh book (probably shortened in transmission) of the Arthasastra is devoted to the methods of systematically breaking up free, powerful, armed tribes of food producers that had not yet degenerated into absolute kingdoms.

The main technique was to soften them up for disintegration from within, to convert the tribesmen into members of class society based upon individual private property..
Read On

On Centimorgan

Other mapping functions are possible. After Haldane's, the most common is that of D. D. Kosambi. Haldane function is purely mathematical; Kosambi's incorporates an empircial term. distinguish between "Haldane centimorgans" or "Kosambi centimorgans"
Read on

A Review of "An Introduction to the Study of Indian History"

Neutral Observer reviews Kosambi's book "An Introduction to the Study of Indian History."
Kosambi is a master of all he surveys in this book - his dexterity, scholarship and decisive judgments reminded me of Eric Hobsbawm. The book is fascinating in many respects - the choice of photographs, the detailed endnotes, the insistence on deducing historical information from observing ritual and practice among the various castes and tribes in India, the obvious comfort with the ancient history of Iran and the near east, the deep knowledge of Sanskrit and Sanskrit literature, Kosambi's scientific studies of coin hoards etc. His contempt for poor scholarship is expressed without reservation and with caustic precision. His writing is terse and elegant. It often rises to the eminently quotable.

Kosambi and the Numerical Analysis of Mahabharta

I recall sitting in the lecture hall where he used to teach, when I was reading his statistical analysis of the mahAbhArata. It was a pioneering work for its time, using distribution of upa-parvan length and syllable statistics to study the concordance between the critical edition initiated by Sukthankar and the parvasaMgraha section. The implications of this study, and a more modern overview, need to be narrated at some point. In several ways Damodar Kosambi was like Rahul Sankrityayan another Marxist historian-- both were genuine scholars whose intellectual breadth should be appreciated. Both were however deluded simultaneously by the bauddha heresy and the red-book of the bearded German.
Read the full post here.


I had set up a site on the Indian historian D.D. Kosambi many years back, perhaps in the late nineties, as a tribute to a man who has contributed so much to applying the dialectical method in investigating ancient Indian history. In my student days, it was very inspiring to have read his books starting with The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline. Over the years I have received a number of emails from those interested in the life and works of D.D. Kosambi.

A lot more material is now available on the internet about D.D. Kosambi than when I started out. My initial project was to scan and make available on the internet works by the number of Marxists that have contributed to our understanding of India and its history. For various reasons, the original project never beyond putting up some of his works online.

Only a few months back, I was amazed to find that Arvind Gupta has made available all the significant works by Kosambi on the internet. It lessens my feeling of guilt at not having completed my initial project.

Since his death in 1966, many of Kosambi's formulations have been disapproved. Still, his works retain their significance for their pioneering efforts and rigour that has laid the foundations of modern Indian historiography.

His quintessentially humanistic streak that still inspires many to read his works is reflected in his own words.
"The subtle mystic philosophies, torturous religions, ornate literature, monuments teeming with intricate sculpture and delicate music of India all derive from the same historical process that produced the famished apathy of the villager, senseless opportunism and termite greed of the ‘cultured’ strata, sullen, uncoordinated discontent among the workers, general demoralization, misery, squalor and degrading superstition. The one is the result of the other, one is the expression of the other…it is necessary to understand that history is not a sequence of haphazard events but is made by human beings in the satisfaction of daily needs."
This blog will serve the purpose of collecting links to internet resources on Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi and his works. There is a Wikipedia entry on Kosambi now, and has a number of useful links, this blog will supplement the Wiki entry and link to a wider range of information on the internet.