Sunday, August 12, 2007

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.

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