Sunday, March 23, 2008

DN Jha at the DD Kosambi Memorial Lecture

Vidyadhar Date in the Free Press Journal
D N Jha, a noted history scholar who has proved that ancient Indians ate cow meat, delivered an interesting lecture in Mumbai recently dispelling several myths on Hinduism. He is a deceptively simple man with various stimulating ideas.

In his D D Kosambi memorial lecture, he did well to refute several popular misconceptions about Hinduism and its being tolerant. Giving numerous examples he showed that the term Hinduism was not at all ancient. Two Sanskrit encyclopaedias of the 19th century make only a slight reference to Hinduism. The word Hindu rarely features in ancient literature. In Bhakti literature, it is used, but mainly with reference to Brahmins not in the manner Hinduism is understood today.

What he meant was that though India was ancient, Hinduism as a concept is quite recent. We had different sects and Brahminism but there was nothing like Hinduism in ancient times. Not a single major ancient Sanskrit text refers to the word or concept of Hinduism. Besides, Hinduism as such has never been monolithic. The Lingayat sect never accepted the superiority of the Vedas, nor did the Mahanubhavas.

There were also many instances of several groups being intolerant towards Buddhists and Jains. So religious conflict was there in India even before the arrival of Islam. India did see several reform movements but all these were absorbed by the caste system. Another noted history scholar in the city recently was Barun De who delivered the Mani Kamerkar memorial lecture at the Asiatic Society.

Interestingly, he spoke without a prepared text which made the presentation much more interesting as compared to the reading of text which can become quite prosaic and dull. He dwelt with the writing of history of Maharashtra in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was an indication of his humility that he said he was not an expert in any discipline of history for that matter.

That was interesting considering that he is a historian in the true sense, he has an understanding and skill to analyse whole epochs of history. But then the term historian is trivialised by the media and is used for even routine researchers. Some of these worthies too have the gall to call themselves historians.

Another point he made was that history should include interesting stories, not just dry, hard facts. He also lauded the contribution of social reformers Jotirao Phule and Tarabai Shinde in our understanding of 19th century Maharashtra with their critical look at the elite and their way of looking at issues from the perspective of the toiling people.

No comments: