It is explosive. I am going to quote the portions which need mention especially in today's socio-political environment. In Chapter I, ‘Introduction’ he gives us a taste of what is in store for the reader.
Initially inspired by the ideas of social reform, Indian historical scholarship gradually became overtly anti-imperialist. With the radicalization of Indian politics after the partition of Bengal in 1905 and the simultaneous growth of militant nationalism, Indian historical writings were conditioned and influenced by contemporary political development which sharpened the edge of the freedom struggle. Partly in reaction to the imperialist view of India's past and partly as a step towards the building up of national self-respect, Indian historians made zealous efforts to refurbish the image of India's past. Hindu culture was looked upon as the precursor of other Asian cultures; this buttressed the theory of pan-Hinduism. The ancient period of Indian history, equated with the Hindu period in James Mill's scheme of periodization, was regarded as one of prosperity and general contentment. Social inequalities were glossed over and Indian society was portrayed as a model of social harmony and peace. The age of the Guptas came in for special praise. It was considered the golden age of Indian history-an idea that continues to find importance in most textbooks.
The glorification of ancient India by nationalist historians meant the glorification of what appeared to them as Hindu India. In a sense, therefore, their writings seem to have been linked with the revivalist ideas of Vivekananda, Dayananda, and others. In the 1930s and 1940s this linkage became quite clear; nationalist historiography gave an impetus to the ideas of V.D. Savarkar, the high priest of Hinsud revivalism. He created the concepts of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra and have his supporters the dangerous slogan ‘Hinduize all politics and militarize Hindudom’. Under his inspiration K.D. Hedgewar founded the fanatically communal and fascist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in 1925 at Nagpur. The pernicious role of the RSS in spreading the virus of communalism in the body politic of India can hardly be exaggerated. The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by the RSS-trained Godse on 30 January 1948, the demolition of the Baburi Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992 and-more recently, in March 20012—the state sponsored genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, are the unforgettable milestones in the unfolding of the backward-looking Hindu revivalist and fascist politics of contemporary India.At the historiographical level Hindu revivalism meant the acceptance of Mill’s periodization based on the untenable premise that ancient kings up to AD 1200 subscribed to the Hindu religion. That some of the major ruling dynasties like the Indo-Greeks, Shakas, and Kushanas were not Hindu was ignored. Indeed, even the Mauryas were not Hindu—the greatest Maurya ruler Ashoka was a Buddhist! In fact, ancient Indians never described themselves as ‘Hindu’. First used by the Achaemenid Persian rulers in the sixth century BC and later by the Arabs and others in the ethno-geographic sense, the term ‘Hindu’ stood for all those who lived on or beyond the siver Sindhu (Indus), the inhabitants of al-Hind (India). Foreign to early Indian literature, this name passed into Indian nomenclature much later and gained currency during the colonial period when it acquired a clearly religious connotation.
Other major sites include Rakhigarhi in Haryana, and the coastal cities of Surkotada in Gujarat and Sutkagendor near the Makran coast, close to the Pakistan-Iran border. Rangpur and Rojdi in the Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat represented the later phase of the Harappan civilization. Despite the fact that a large number of sites associated with it have been discovered since 1946, the culture itself is still best known by the two cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Since both are now in Pakistan, the Hindu revivalists today are busy locating the epicenter of this culture in the elusive Sarasvati valley.
From the footnote we get to know of Sarasvati
The Sarasvati, identified with the Ghaggar in Panjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan and with the Hakra beyond the Indian border in Pakistan, is mentioned at several places in the Rigveda and is reminiscent of the Harasvati in Afghanistan. Vedic references imply the semi-mythical nature of the Sarasvati ‘as goddess and mythical river in the sky or on earth’, though at least two later Vedic texts (Jaiminiya Brahmana and Panchavimsha Brahmana) refer to its disappearance in the desert near vinashana and provide a basis for the much later Puranic mythology that it flows underground up to the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna at Prayaga (Allahabad). The Hindu fundamentalists, however, have been working overtime to prove that the Sarasvati basin was the original homeland of the Aryans, whom they regard as the authors of the Harappan civilization which they name after this river. A VHP protagonist and an archeologist of sorts has proclaimed that the Harappan culture was the gift of both the Indus and the Sarasvati and ‘perhaps more of the latter’. Since he habitually thinks in terms of India versus Pakistan and the Sarasvati versus the Indus, he unduly emphasizes that there are 700 Harappan sites on the Sarasvati as compared to 100 sites on the Indus and, on the basis of this claim, seeks to rename the civilization…far more urban sites appear on the Pakistani Sarasvati than on the Indian Sarasvati. But the effort to rename the civilization of the Indus valley after the lost Vedic Sarasvati is going on unabated so as to establish the superiority of the Sarasvati over the Indus, and is thus adding a communal dimension to Harappan and Vedic studies as also to the history of Panjab. All this, unmistakably reminds us of the political abuse of archaeology in Nazi Germany where Hitler and his National Socialist Party’s ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg, drew much inspiration from the archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna who laid the foundations of an ethnocentric German prehistory.
The earliest specimen of the Harappan script was noticed in 1853 and the complete script was recovered by 1923 from a large number of inscriptions written on a wide range of objects, notably on the intaglio seals…Hindu chauvinists connect the script with Sanskrit, others with Dravidian or proto-Dravisian languages and still others with the Sumerian language. But the language of the Harappans was probably Dravidian because Brahui, a language of this family, is still spoken in Baluchistan and Sindh in Pakistan, besides some parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Turkmenistan. According to a recent suggestion, however, the Harappans also spoke the Munda language in some parts of their cultural zone.…A majority of Harappan terracotas represent cattle; the cow was not represented. Besides sheep and goats, dogs, cats, humped cattle, water buffalo, and the elephants were domesticated. The Harappans certainly ate the flesh of cattle, including cow and ox, a fact unpalatable to modern-day Hindutva enthusiasts.
Harappan craft production included some works of art. The most striking of them is a bronze statuette of a pert and provocative ‘dancing girl’, naked but for a necklace and a large number of bangles covering one arm.
Numerous symbols of the phallus and female sex organs made of stone found in Harappa indicate the prevalence of phallus worship—a practice which, despite its condemnation in the Rigveda as being prevalent among the non-Aryans, became a respectable form of worship in later times; in fact, clay phalli continue to be worshipped and then dumped every morning in some parts of the country even today…the discovery of many graves in Harappa and other places prove beyond doubt that the Harappans generally buried their dead in a north-south orientation, along with different types of goods. This practice is in sharp contrast to the subsequent practice of cremation prevalent in most parts of the country. It is a different matter that if a communalist Hindu is told that all his ancestors did not practice cremation he may well jump down our throat!
The idea of the Aryan invasion of the urban centres of the Harappan people leading to the final disappearance of their culture has been enmeshed in controversy, though it has been put to various uses by different groups of scholars and social and political activists. The invasion theory was first clearly expounded by an eminent British archaeologist who trained most of the first generation of post-Independence professional Indian archaeologists, and who remained more or less unchallenged for quite some time. But since the early 1960s this theory has come in for much criticism. Some archaeologists—Indians in particular—have criticized the theory with a vengeance as it were, and have vehemently denied the idea of an invasion. They have also assigned the Aryans an Indian homeland from where they supposedly migrated to different parts of Asia and Europe, though there is no evidence to support this view. Guided by racist considerations, the autochthonists have used all the weapons in their armoury to uphold the imagine superiority of the Aryan race.…Dayanand Saraswati, who founded the Arya Samaj in 1875, laid stress on Aryan culture as the root of all Indian tradition and sought the sanction of the Vedas, the earliest extant Aryan literature, for their ideas. Several authors and political activists subsequently propagated the idea of the Indian homeland of the Aryans and of the domination of the world by them and in so doing they went to ridiculous extremes. Even when the Hindu nationalist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak, for example, postulated in 1903 that the Aryans originally lived in the Arctic, the RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar later located this region in modern Bihar and Orissa. Some scholars continue to believe in pan-Aryanism and go so far as to claim that India was the cradle of world culture…A contemporary of Dayanand and a leader of the non-brahmana movements in Maharshtra during the Peshwa rule who founded the Satya Shodhak Samaj in 1873, Jyotiba Phule exploited the theory in a radical manner. He regarded the Aryans as aliens who subjugated the indigenous people described in the Brahmanical texts as Dasas and shudras, the real inheritors of the land. The ideas of Phule gave ideological support to non-brahmana movements in other parts of the country and these played a progressive role in his times, though in contemporary India these may have been used, consciously or unconsciously, to justify frequent caste confrontation.
…Since cattle seem to have been tended by common herdsmen, it has been suggested that members of the tribe collectively owned them. Moreover, those who herded their cows in the same cowshed came to belong to the same gotra, a word which later came to indicate descent from a common ancestor, and hence an exogamous clan unit. The daughter was known as duhitri, micher of the cow. The cow is described in one or two places as not to be killed (aghnya), but this may imply its economic importance. It was not yet held sacred, its politicization being a recent phenomenon. Both oxen and cows were, in fact, slaughtered for food. Beef was a delicacy offered to the guest. The Rigveda mentions the word atithinir (cows fit for guests) and the name of the Vedic hero, Atithigva, means literally, ‘slaying cows for guests’. A later text, Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, even describes a guest as a cow-killer ) (goghna).
This passage about assimilation of non-vedic elements throws light not only on the false claims regarding the purity of all ‘vedic’ but also on the stupidity of the argument. Unequal distribution of the spoils of war was certainly the basic reason for the emergence of the fourfold division of society. But the phenomenon was also linked with the long process of acculturation between the local population and the Aryan migrants, of which there is considerable evidence. The Rigvedic vocabulary contains nearly 4 per cent words of the non-Aryan substrate language which was in use in a major part of north India before the advent of the Aryans. Assimilation of the non-Vedic elements is also borne out by the information available about some prominent individuals mentioned in the Rigveda. In a passage of the Rigveda, Vasishtha, who replaced Vishvamitra as the chief priest of Sudas and who later came to be treated as the founder of a major brahmana gotra, is said to have been born of the seed of the Vedic gods Mitra and Varuna; his mother is not mentioned. But in the one and the same account he is said to have been ‘born of the mind of Urvashi’, born also of a jar which received the combined semen of the two gods; and discovered ‘clad in the lightning’ in a pushkara (tank). Garbled versions of his birth may have been invented to gloss over his non-Vedic origin and to facilitate his adoption into the Rigvedic fold. Another prominent sage and the founder of a gotra, Agastya, who carried the Vedic religion to south India, was also born of a jar. Several seers like Kanva and Angiras are described in the Rigveda as black, which may point to their non-Vedic antecedents. Like the non-Aryan priesthood, some conquered chiefs were also assimilated and give high status. Such Dasa chiefs as Balbhuta and Taruksha are said to have made generous gifts to the priests; they thus earned unstinted praise and gained in status in the Aryan social order. The Rigveda does not throw any light on the process of assimilation of the pre-Aryan or non-Aryan commoners into the Aryan fold. Perhaps most of the ordinary members of the aboriginal tribes were considered to be outside the pale of Aryan life and were reduced to the lowest position in society. Social distance between the Aryans and the ‘dark-skinned, full-lipped, snub-nosed’ non-Aryans increased over time. Not surprisingly they may have felt the need to retain the purity of their blood, little realizing that much non-Aryan blood was already flowing in their veins, just as some non-Aryan gods had wormed their way into the vedic pantheon through syncretism.
…All this does not mean a total disappearance of pastoralism, which continued to remain a reasonably prominent feature of life. This is suggested not only by the remains of cattle bones bearing cutmarks at Hastinapur, Atranjikhera, etc., but also by the later Vedic texts, especially the Shatapatha Brahman, which refers to Yajnavalkya’s obdurate statement in favour of eating beef…It is in the chapter ‘Early State Formation’ that i got to know of a different version of Rama’s story. According to the Dasaratha Jataka, one of the Buddhist birth stories, Rama, whom it describes both as the brother and husband of Sita, was the kind of Kashi and not Ayodhya where his modern devotees (Ramabhaktas) demolished a medieval mosque in 1992 leading to a communal holocaust in the country.In the chapter ‘The First Empire’, i got to know that things in my history textbook were not always correct. Made a mental note that whenever i get some children to be with i shall instruct them to question everything in their textbooks, something i never ever did. See this here Some scholars would have us believe that Ashoka, moved by the untold miseries caused by the war, dramatically embraced Buddhism. But according to one of his inscriptions, it was only after a period of two and a half years that he became an enthusiastic supporter of the religion of the Buddha.
Kautilya seems to have deliberately fostered the rusticity of villagers to augment agricultural output so as to achieve the maximum levels of surplus expropritation. The exploitative character of the Maurya state is clearly demonstrated by Kautilya’s own words: ‘As for settling a land with the four castes, the one where the lowest castes predominate is the better because it will permit all sorts of exploitation.’
The Indo-Greek power in north-western India did not survive for long. It succumbed to the nomadic tribes known as the Scythians who were forced by climatic and political factors to move out from Central Asia…the Scythians, known as the Shakas in Patanjali’s Mahabhasya and in other early Indian sources, moved from Bactria and invaded Iran and then the Greek kingdoms in India…The most important Shaka ruler in India was Rudradaman who exercised control over Sindh, Kutch, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Konkan, and the Narmada valley as well as Malwa, Kathiawar, and the western Deccan. He is famous for repairing the Sudarshana lake which was in use for irrigation in the semi-arid zone of Kathiawad from the time of the Mauryas. Rudradaman was the first king to issue a long inscription in chaste Sanskrit. The first ruler to elevate Sanskrit to the status of a court language was thus a king whose origins can be traced to a region outside India.
In return for her exports India imported from the Roman empire such commodities as topaz, thin cloth, linen, antimony, glassware, copper, tin, lead, wine, realgar, orpiment, and wheat. The Periplus also tells us of the import of dainty damsels for purposes of concubinage in Indian royal establishments.
Artisans and craftsmen were largely drawn in the post-Maurya period from the shudras, who gained in wealth and status on account of the progress of crafts and commerce. With the disappearance of the Maurya state, which had regulated all economic activities, the guilds became powerful and perhaps secured a certain measure of independence for the artisans. But most artisans were confined to urban centres like Taxila and Mathura in the north and coastal towns and their hinterlands in the Deccan and the south. It is, therefore, difficult to postulate any major change in the living conditions of the class of the shudras. Generally they continued to be employed as hired labour and slaves. The lawgiver Manu laid down a number of laws which adversely affected their economic position; in his view the shudras were meant to serve the upper varnas. In cases of assault and similar crimes the punishments prescribed for them were very harsh. According to Manu, the very limb with which a man of a low caste hurt a member of the highest caste was to be cut off. If, for example, a shudra insulted a twice-born with gross invective, he would have his tongue cut off. Legally, a member of a higher varna could marry a woman of a lower order. But Patanjali tells us that the dasi (maid servant) and vrishali (shudra woman) were meant for the pleasures of men of the upper classes. Most shudras seethed in discontent at this gross discrimination. It is not unlikely that they often turned against brahmanas and other higher castes and thus caused tenion in society. Several earlu Puranic passages of the late third and early fourth century indicate that society was passing through a phase of crisis known as the Kaliyuga when the institutions of family, private property, and the varna system were under attack. Therefore, the lawgivers not only provided for a number of safeguards against the outbreak of shudra hostility but also for the protection of the Brahmanical patriarchal social institutions. They laid down inheritance rules which deprived women of their right to property and lowered the age of marriage, which took away their freedom to choose their husbands. As an unmarried girl a woman had to depend on her father, as a wife on her husband, and as a window on her son. She was, according to Manu, a seductress.…The presence in India of foreigners who achieved political and economic importance posed a threat to the caste system. Brahmana orthodoxy could not dub them as outcastes; on the contrary it had to come to terms with them, as is evident in the Mahabharata. At one place in this text they are described as the sons of Yayati and at another they are said to have sprung from the body of Vasistha’s cow together with the Pahlavas. In one passage the Yavanas are degraded as shudras and in another Indra says that they can be admitted into the Brahmanical order if they follow the Brahmanical dharma. Mutually contradictory though these statements may appear, they are all indicative of efforts to assimilate them into Indian society. Shrewdly enough the lawgiver Manu conferred the status of ‘fallen kshatriyas’ (vratya kshatriya) on them.
Simultaneously with the emergence of these gods, Brahmanism was assimilating a variety of popular cults. Animals, trees, mountains, and rivers came to acquire divine associations. The cow tended to become an object of reverence in Brahmanical normative texts, though it was converted into a mark of ‘Hindu’ identity perhaps not before the colonial period. After the cow, the snake was the most revered animal; originally it was the centre of primitive fertility rites. The Vaikunha mountain became sacred to Vishnu, as Kailasha was to Shiva. Vaikuntha, thought to be situated in the highest heavens, has not yet been identified; Kailasha is generally recognized as a peak in the central Himalayas. Tree cults were also absorbed into the Brahmanical faith. The pipal or ashvaththa and the vata banyan) were especially sacred trees. The tulasi or the holy basil plant was sacred to Vishnu. It is still grown in the courtyards of traditional Hindu homes; Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, is still married every year at a fixed date to the goddess Vrinda who is represented by this plant. The waters of the Ganga were held sacred; in the myths the river is said to have sprung from the foot of Vishnu and fallen to earth through the matted locks of Shiva. Most of the above-mentioned cults had roots in primitive popular beliefs and practices and have survived to our own day.Quoting this portion to make it clear to myself how the history of even traditions is important. He continues to talk about the (holy) texts. In spite of a gradual shift in emphasis from ritual to devotion as the means of attaining nearness to god, Vedic sacrifice was not entirely rejected. The people, however, were gradually losing touch with the Vedic tradition. The religious importance previously enjoyed by the Vedic texts now came to be attached to the Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Puranas. The epics were bardic in origin and secular in character. They had, therefore to be revised by the brahmanas so as to give them a religious character. The process took several centuries and resulted in substantial interpolations in their original kernel. The most important interpolation was the Gita, which has been dated around the second century BC. It contains 700 tightly woven stanzas, which provide the first clear exposition of the basic tenets of the Vaishnava faith. No wonder the Gita later became the basic text of the Vaishnavas. In our own times it is talked about more often than read, its glaring contradictions and poetic excellence and its justification of a fratricidial war being conveniently ignored by those who tirelessly swear by it.
Ashvaghosha and Bhasa wrote in an ornate style perhaps for courtly circles. From now on Sanskrit tended to be ostentatious, simple words giving way to compounded ones. Already a virtual monopoly of the brahmanas, Sanskrit was now gradually becoming the language of the ruling class. Even royal inscriptions came to be written in classical ornate style; the earliest of them in classical Sanskrit belongs to the Shaka king Rudradaman (dated AD 150), who takes pride in his mastery over the language. Later it came to be increasingly adopted in royal charters. Prakrit, the language close to popular speech and used by the Maurya and Satavahana rulers, was thus replaced by Sankrit, though in norther Tamilnadu and adjoining areas the early Pallava rulers issued their copper-plate charters in Prakrit during the third and fourth centuries; and the distinct Tamil linguistic tradition was still to take its form and was not yet in a position to become a substitute for the north Indian literary idiom……Disputes about the stratification of the Shangam texts may remain unresolved for many years to come. However, what is difficult to question is that compared with classical Sanskrit literature, the early Tamil literature was closer to the realities of life.
The social structure was undergoing changes in the Gupta period. Pronounced varna distinctions in various spheres of life can be seen in the contemporary writings. According to Varahamihira, a brahmana should have a house with five rooms, a Kshatriya with four, a vaishya with three, and a shudra with two. He adds that in each case the length and breadth of the main room should vary in accordance with the order of superiority. The old provision allowing for different rates of interest for different castes continued in Gupta times. A Puranic text compiled in Gupta times associates the four colours, white, red, yellow, and black, with brahmana, Kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra respectively. This shows the relative status of the four orders. The writings of the period emphasize that a brahmana should not accept food from a shudra because it reduces his spiritual strength. Varna distinctions were also observed in legal matters. The law books lay down that a brahmana should be tested by a balance, a Kshatriya by fire, a vaishya by water, and a shudra by poison. In lawsuits requiring the deposit of sureties distinction between the twice-born and the shudras was made. Equally discriminating were inheritance rules. A shudra son of a person belonging to a higher caste would get the smallest share. According to the lawgiver Brihaspati, the son of a brahmana male and a shudra female was not entitled to any share in landed property. He also tells us that witnesses should belong to respectable families. Other legal texts state that shudras could appear as witnesses only on behalf of the members of their own caste. All this proves the class bias of law and justice, which tended to become increasingly prominent in course of time.A distinction was made between shudras and untouchables. A shudra having sexual intercourse with a Chandala woman was to be reduced to her position. The practice of untouchability became more widespread and severe than in the early period. The lawgivers prescribed penance for removing the sin arising out of touching a Chandala. Fa-hsien informs us that Chandalas entering the gate of a city or marketplace would strike a piece of wood to give prior notice of their arrival so that other men could avoid them. The untouchables in general and the Chandalas in particular are described in contemporary texts in very disparaging terms. They are associated with impurity, untruth, theft, heterodoxy, useless quarrels, passion, wrath and greed.The varna system does not seem to have functioned smoothly. The Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, which may be assigned to the Gupta period, contains at least nine verses which stress the need of a combination of brahmanas and Kshatriyas; this may indicate some kind of concerted opposition to them by the vaishyas and shudras. In one of these passages the complaint is made that at one stage the vaishyas and shudras willfully began to unite with the wives of brahmanas. The shudras seem to have been particularly hostile to the existing social order. The Anushashana Parva of the Mahabharata represents them as the destroyers of the king. Another contemporary work describes them as hostile, violent, boastful, short-tempered, untruthful, extremely greedy, ungrateful, heterodox, lazy, and impure. All this as well as passages from the legal texts would suggest a conflict between the shudras and the ruling classes. But references to actual revolts by the shudras against the upper classes are not recorded in the sources of the Gupta period.The ruling classes often used religion for maintaining the social order based on varna. Already in the Gita, vaishyas, shudras, and women were condemned by Krishna as people of low origin. This view found forceful expression in several texts of the Gupta period. A passage in the Mahabharata tells us that the shudra can achieve salvation only through service of the twice-born and devotion to god. It is emphasized here and in the Puranas that a shudra can obtain brahmanhood in the next birth through good conduct. This emphasis derived from the theory of karma (literally ‘work’ or ‘deed’) would ripen like a seed planted in the previous season. The doctrine appealed to members of various varnas; for even a shudra could hope to be reborn as a king in the next birth if his karmic balance sheet proved to be favourable. In the Mrichchhakatika of Shudraka, a bullock-cart driver refuses to kill Vasantasena precisely because he does not want to repeat the sort of crimes which made him a slave in this birth. Evidently such a belief did not permit the masses to blame their miseries on human agency, and laid stress on the necessity of adhering to the duties traditionally prescribed for the varnas to which they belonged.
…The Mahabharata, traditionally attributed to Vyasa, was also redacted; it was inflated from its original 24,000 verses to 100,000 verses. There is much in common between this epic and the law books. Some of the injunctions of Manu, for instance, occur in identical form in the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata which, contrary to the generally held view, may imply that this legal text belongs to the Gupta period…The Brahmanical world-view found in the epics, Puranas, and Dharmashastra texts is reflected in the various versions of the Panchatantra fables which were elaborated in prose interspersed with gnomic verses.
The period of the imperial Guptas is described in most standard books on Indian history as one of a Hindu renaissance. This is far from true. The highest achievements of Gupta sculpture are the Buddhist images from Sarnath; the best contemporary paintings from Ajanta have Buddhist themes. Progress in astronomical knowledge as represented in the writings of Aryabhatta and Varahamihira owed only in part to the indigenous tradition. One of the five astronomical systems dealt with by Varahamihira was the Romakasiddhanta, which evidently refereed to the Roman system; another, the Paulishasiddhanta, is explained as a recollection of the name of the classical astronomer Paul of Alexandria. The main components of the so-called Hindu renaissance, therefore, are the writings of Kalidasa, the composition of some of the Puranas, and the coins and inscriptions which indicate that the Gupta kings patronized the two Brahmanical sects, Vaishnavism and Shaivism. But the work of Kalidasa is not indicative of an intellectual rebirth or revival of literary activity; it merely implies a development in the literary forms and styles which were evolving in an earlier period. The Puranas had existed much before the time of the Guptas in the form of bardic literature; in the Gupta age some of them were finally compiled and given their present form. Nor does the growing popularity of Vaishnavism and Shaivism mean any religious resurgence. The basic tenets of the two religions go back to earlier times; now in the context of emerging feudal conditions they could attract a greater following. The use of the term ‘Hindu’ is equally erroneous. It was first used by the Persion Achaemenid rulers in the sixth century BC and later by the Arbas in the post-Gupta period to describe the inhabitants of Hindu (India). Ancient Indians never thought of themselves as Hindus. The much publicized Hindu renaissance, was, in reality, not a renaissance, much less a Hindu one
…No extant court drama or Sanskrit poetical work directly refers to any Gupta ruler. The only contemporary reference to them is found in the Puranas, which contemptuously group them with petty kings described as ‘barbarous (mlechchhapraya), impious, dishonest (or liars), niggardly and highly irascible’…
Some Indian historians have been so enamoured of the Guptas as to tirelessly speak of their rule as respresenting a golden age in Indian history. In an emotionally surcharged multi-volume work we are told in a vein of romatic lamentation: ‘Life was never happier.’ Yet it was during that time that in certain parts of the country serfdom first appeared, leading eventually to the economic bondage of the pesantry. Women became an item of property and came to live in the perpetual tutelage of men, notwithstanding their idealization in art and literature. Caste distinctions and caste rigidity became sharper than ever before; law and justice showed a definite bias in favour of the higher castes. Fa-hsien tells us that the people were generally happy. True, the upper classes were happy and prosperous, and lived in comfort and ease, as can be judged from contemporary art and literature, but this was certainly not true of the lower orders. The Chinese pilgrim himself speaks of the plight of the Chandalas. The untouchable class as a whole came to be degraded further in the social scale. Social tensions continued. But religion was used as an instrument for maintaining the varna-divided society. For the upper classes all periods in history have been golden; for the masses none. But the dystopia of the present has often led historians to look for a utopia in the past and the Indian ruling class loses no opportunity to exploit this nostalgic longing for a golden age to its advantage.
Mahmud made seventeen rapacious raids between 1001 and 1027 and plundered the temple towns of Mathura, Thaneshwar, and Kanauj. His most famous campaign was the one he led to Saurashtra. Here he defeated the Solanki ruler Bhimadeva (1026) and sacked the shrine of Somanatha, often projected as one of the richest temples of the time though a twelfth-century Sanskrit text dealing with pilgrim centres does not single it out for special treatment. Mahmud is said to have returned with 20 million gold dinars (about 6.5 tons of gold) to his capital Ghazni and, according to British accounts, with the wooden gates of the temple.Although Mahmud’s attack has been much glorified in the Turko Persian accounts, it does not occupy an important place in indigenous writings. Communalist historians have spilt much ink on the tales of destruction carried out by him so that it is often forgotten that he founded a library and a museum at Ghazni and patronized such men of letters as Firdausi, the author of Shahnama, and Al-Beruni, who wrote the most comprehensive account of India before the advent of Europeans centuries later. The Islamic fundamentalism of Mahmud has also been blown out of proportion. In the process his own claim of having killed 50,000 infidels and an equal number of Muslim heretics is ignored just as the famous incident of his using Hindu troops to massacre Muslim rebels in a mosque and Christians in a church at Zarang (Sistan) is deliberately forgotten
…When the second wave of invasions from Afghanistan in the north-east was planned and led by Muhammad Ghori, the Indian princes patched up their differences for a while under the leadership of Prithviraja and defeated him at Tarain in 1191. There was, however, a reversal of fortunes in the following year when Muhammad defeated Prithviraja at the same place and killed him, though he has been immortalized by Chand Bardai in his long epic poem and by numerous folk ballads, not to speak of communal historians whose favourite pastime is to glorify all Hindu chiefs who fought against Muslim rulers.
Evidence of significant changes in the caste system is plentiful. The vaishyas, for example, ceased to remain important as a trading caste when trade languished, and a Puranic text tells us that in the kali age some traders would become oilmen and winnowers of grain, others would seek shelter with rajputras, and yet others with all varnas. The identity of the vaishyas as a peasant caste also seems to have been blurred. For the shudras now took their position as cultivators and the origin of the modern peasant castes of kurmis in Bihar and kunbis in Maharashtra may be traced back to the early medieval period. The gap between the vaishyas and the shudras was thus reduced; Al-Beruni tells us that members of both castes were punished by having their tongue cut off for reciting the Vedas.The number of shudra castes swelled enormously. A post-Gupta Puranic text mentions more than a hundred mixed castes are produced as a result of unapproved relationships of vaishya women with members of the lower castes. An important reason for this increase was that guilds of artisans and craftsmen, which earlier flourished on account of brisk commercial activity, now ossified into shudra castes. Equally important was the fact that many tribes living in jungles and forests were conquered. Shabaras, Bhillas, Pulindas, Abhiras, and others were thus suppressed and were absorbed into the Brahmanical order. The brahmanas who settled in tribal areas after getting land grants brought the backward people into their social and cultural fold peacefully and they assigned shudra status to most of them. The shudra castes were classified as pure (sat) and impure (asat). The latter category consisted mostly of the untouchable castes; more than fifty of them are enumerated in the early medieval sources. All beefeaters were now relegated to the rank of untouchables.
In the patriarchal family structure women were subjected to an unprecedented degree of subordination. Deprived of the right to initiation and formal education, they were generally denied the right to property and they themselves continued to be treated as an item of property. The practice of the wife joining the husband on the funeral pyre (anumarana/ sahagamana/ sahamarana, sati), therefore, gained popularity, especially among the upper classes. Although a legal commentator considered sati an act of suicide, the Puranas propagated stories of women who burnt themselves with their husbands and secured a place in heaven as a reward. Literary and epigraphic evidence indicates the prevalence of sati in several parts of northern India, though its evidence is also available from the peninsular region. In Rajasthan, the militant Rajput kings and nobles expected a high degree of fidelity and loyalty from their wives and servants who, therefore, followed them in death. In Bengal, where the Rajputs were not numerous, the practice of widow burning prevailed among the brahmanas despite the legal injunction to the contrary. It is likely that the ideology behind sati was used here to deprive them of their share in landed property that came to be concentrated in the hands of mostly brahmana landlords.
Although Tantricism, like bhakti, was an important component of the medieval religions, their votaries did not always practice tolerance. On the contrary, instances of sectarian rivalry and violence are many in early medieval India. In Kashmir, Hsuan Tsang tells us, the Huna chief Mihirakula, a Shaiva by faith, destroyed 1,600 Buddhist establishments and killed thousands of Buddhist monks and lay followers; several centuries later kings Kshemagupta (950-68) and Kalasha (1063-89) are said to have destroyed Buddhist images and monasteries. In Tamilnadu, the Pandyan king, who gave up Jainism to embrace Shaivism, is said to have impaled eight thousand Jainas. In Karnataka, the followers of Jainism were a perpetual bête noire to the followers of the anti-Brahmanical Shaivite sect of Lingayats founded by Basava in the twelfth century. Instances of sectarian violence between the two are well documented, though much of it may have been rooted in the economic rivalry between them in an era of commercial revival. The harassment of Jainas by the Lingayats became so acute later that they had to appeal to the Vijayanagara ruler for protection. The much trumpeted ‘tolerance’ of Hinduism has, therefore, to be taken with a pinch of salt, but there is no doubt that Tantric beliefs and practices and bhakti were shared in varying degrees by all religions.
Excessive attention to prosody, poetics, and lexicography tended to make the Sanskrit language complicated, florid, pedantic, and prolix…Sanskrit thus became the exclusive preserve of the royal court, the feudal aristocracy, and the elite. With its impenetrable verbosity classical Sanskrit became the language of political power and cultural domination. It widened the chasm between landlords and peasants and fortified the former’s ideological and cultural hegemony over other segments of society. But the vital literary energies were gradually channelized into regional languages. Sanskrit naturally tended to lose its hegemonic position. Not surprisingly it came to be described as a dead language by the mid-nineteenth-century Gujarati poet, Dalpatram Dahyani, though around this time it also began to be ‘utilized as one of the major legitimizing sources of Indian national identity constructed as Hindu identity.