The Candid Eye

June 1, 2009

From ‘India Shining’ to ‘India was Shining’

This was a little old article appeared on the ‘The Hindu’ magazine.Click here for the source. 

**Excerpts from the ‘The Hindu’ magazine starts**

Murli Manohar Joshi is the Chairperson of the Drafting Committee for the BJP Manifesto, released on April 3, 2009. As Chairperson, he has written the preamble of the Manifesto, supposedly based on historical “facts” about Indian civilisation and culture. Below are excerpts from the preamble (in bold) along with brief comments given to The Hindu by eminent historians.

Indian civilisation is perhaps the most ancient and continuing civilisation of the world. India has a long history and has been recognised by others as a land of great wealth and even greater wisdom. But India has also experienced continued foreign attacks and alien rule for centuries and this has resulted in a loss of pride in India and its remarkable achievements. Indians, particularly educated under the system of education imposed by the Britishers, have lost sight of not only the cultural and civilisational greatness of India, but also of its technological achievements and abounding natural resources.

India is not the most ancient civilisation. Civilisation is generally defined as having city cultures and that would make Egypt, Mesopotamia and China older. Nor is it the only continuous culture since China has a continuous culture that is older.Every part of the world has been subjected to attacks by aliens and alien rule. In India the aliens were frequently assimilated and incorporated into Indian culture and ceased to be alien.India lost its pride when it became a British colony and not before that. Colonial domination was more deeply destructive than any other had been before it.The technological achievements of India had been known to those Indians who were part of these professions. Such achievements never became public knowledge. They were not applied to changing the technologies of Indian society in a major way. This is something Indians learnt through colonial rule.

According to foreigners visiting this country, Indians were regarded as the best agriculturists in the world. Records of these travels from the 4th Century BC till early-19th Century speak volumes about our agricultural abundance which dazzled the world. The Thanjavur (900-1200 AD) inscriptions and Ramnathapuram (1325 AD) inscriptions record 15 to 20 tonnes per hectare production of paddy. 

Agricultural abundance varied over time and space. There was no uniform abundance at all times. Joshi quotes inscriptions from Thanjavur but does not say which one. In AD 1054 (the period he speaks of as producing 20 tons per hectare of paddy) there is also a record that the area of Alangudi in Thanjavur Dt. suffered severe famine, so severe that even the state could not help the people and they finally went to the temple and sold their land to the temple treasury to get money to buy food from elsewhere. [M.E.A.R. 1899-1900, 20]

Famine was common and is mentioned in Indian texts. We do not have to go looking for certificates of merit from foreign visitors. References are made to anavrishti and ativrishti and locusts as the cause. Famine is referred to in the Ramayana [1.8.12 ff] and the Mahabharata [12.139] and in the latter it led to people eating all kinds of unsavoury things. The frequency of references to the 12-year famine is found in many texts. Manu in his Dharma-shastra states that in times of famine social codes can be dispensed with. [102 ff] The Jatakas refer to famines. [1.75, etc;] 

It has been established beyond doubt by the several reports on education at the end of the 18th Century and the writings of Indian scholars that not only did India have a functioning indigenous educational system but that it actually compared more than favourably with the system obtaining in England at the time in respect of the number of schools and colleges proportionate to the population, the number of students in schools and colleges, the diligence as well as the intelligence of the students, the quality of the teachers and the financial support provided from private and public sources.Contrary to the then prevailing opinion, those attending school and college included an impressive percentage of lower caste students, Muslims and girls.

There were no schools or colleges as we know them today in ancient India. Upper caste children were educated in mathas, agraharas and sometimes monasteries. Children following a profession were apprentices in that profession. Lower castes and women were not educated generally. In Sanskrit plays they are the ones who speak the vernacular language Prakrit whilst the upper caste, educated persons speak Sanskrit.

Old British documents established that India was far advanced in the technical and educational fields than Britain of 18th and early-19th Century. Its agriculture technically and productively was far superior; it produced a much higher grade of iron and steel. The Iron Pillar at Mehrauli in Delhi has withstood the ravages of time for 1,500 years or more without any sign of rusting or decay.

The iron-pillar at the Qutab has rusted but the rust cannot be seen as it is in the socket at the top.Astronomy, mathematics and medicine were at a premium from the Seventh century onwards when there was close interaction between scholars from Alexandria, Baghdad, India and China.

India knew plastic surgery, practised it for centuries and, in fact, it has become the basis of modern plastic surgery. India also practised the system of inoculation against small pox centuries before the vaccination was discovered by Dr. Edward Jenner.

India had no practice of plastic surgery until modern times. Nor did India know about vaccines. 

Fa-Hian, writing about Magadha in 400 AD, has mentioned that a well organised health care system existed in India. According to him, the nobles and householders of this country had founded hospitals within the city to which the poor of all countries, the destitute, the crippled and the diseased may repair.

“They receive every kind of requisite help. Physicians inspect their diseases, and according to their cases, order them food and drink, medicines or decoctions, everything in fact that contributes to their ease. When cured they depart at their ease.”

The Chinese pilgrims visiting India — Fa Hien and Hsuan Tsang — make a brief mention of sick persons being treated by having to fast for seven days and being given some medicine. This was probably the treatment given to sick monks in monasteries. There were no hospitals.

India’s worldview is known to have extended from Bamiyan/ Kandahar to Borobudur/ Indonesia on the one hand, and Sri Lanka to Japan on the other. Imprints of Indian culture are found in some other parts of the world as well.

India’s world view did not extend from Afganistan to Indonesia. Hindus in south India knew nothing about Bamiyan and those in north-western India knew nothing about Borobudur. Nor was there any knowledge of Japan. There was some knowledge of central Asia in the north-west of India, some knowledge of south-east Asia in eastern and southern India and the Cholas had contacts with Canton.

The belief in essential unity of mankind is a unique feature of Hindu thought. The Vedic Rishi had also declared that Ekam Sad Viprah Bahudha Vadanti (truth or reality is one but wise men describe it in different ways). This is essentially a secular thought in the real sense of the term because it accepts that one can follow his own path to reach the ultimate. Hindus are well known for their belief in harmony of religions. 

The notion of the secular was not known to the Hindus, as the secular requires giving priority to the human being irrespective of his/her beliefs. Hindus were concerned with establishing caste and sect. Only the Buddhists expounded a view that might be called secular since they emphasised social ethics irrespective of other links. And Buddhists were ousted by Hindus.A new paradigm is called for, but one that endorses the primacy of the human being, the citizen of India, rather than the Hindu.

**Excerpts from the ‘The Hindu’ magazine ends**

There are number of erudite replies to the above article in web already been published and been sent to the editor of the magazine.I have given one such reply from Dr.J.K. Bajaj of Center for Policy Studies,Chennai Branch.The same has been published in  ‘Haindava Keralam’

**Reply of Dr.J.K.Bajaj & Dr. M.D. Srinivas starts** 

In the Sunday Supplement of the Hindu of May , ( /2009050350100400.htm) some unnamed ‘eminent historians’ have joined issue with the descriptions of the relative affluence and functionality of Indian society in pre-British India given in the preamble to the BJP manifesto. The historians seem to claim that all that is suggested in the preamble about the agricultural abundance, technological sophistication and efficient schooling arrangements of the pre-British India is merely a figment of someone’s imagination and has no basis in historical evidence.  

Agricultural Productivity of India

 An easily available source on the productivity of Indian agriculture in pre-British south India is the article by L. B. Alaev, The System of Agricultural Production: South India, in the widely available The Cambridge Economic History of India, Vol. I, c.1200-c.1750, Cambridge 1982. 

On the basis of epigraphic records, Alaev estimates productivity of 6.6 tons per hectare of paddy in the not so fertile region of Ramanad. This is almost certainly an underestimate, because Alaev assumes a much higher rate of taxation than what was considered the norm in India and assigns a much lower value for the volume measures of the period than what seems reasonable. For the later period of 1807, Alaev gives an estimate of 13 tons of paddy per hectare from two crops per year in Coimbatore. 

Another fairly well-known source is Dr. Tennant’s, Indian Recreations, which mentions productivity of 7.5 tons of wheat per hectare in the region around Allahabad in 1803; the estimate was cited in the Edinburgh Review of July 1804. Similarly high productivity in several places in north India was repeatedly mentioned by several British administrators up to the middle of the nineteenth century. 

The estimate of Dr. Tennant was quoted by Henry Elliot, the governor of NWP, in his memoirs of 1869. The detailed references are available in Tapan Raychaudhuri’s, “The mid-Eighteenth century Background”, in The Cambridge Economic History of India, Vol. II, c.1757-c.1970, Cambridge 1982. While analysing the information, Tapan Raychaudhuri observes “One striking fact about Indian agriculture in pre-colonial and early colonial days is the very high yield per acre – which cannot be explained away simply as errors of observation…” before he begins to caste doubts on the data in the manner of all ‘eminent historians’ of India, who seem determined to suppress and disparage all evidence that puts a positive light on the pre-British India.  

We have ourselves estimated agricultural production of some 2,000 localities in the Chengalpattu region based on the records of an extensive survey undertaken by the British in 1764-68. Preliminary estimates are available in J. K. Bajaj and M. D. Srinivas, Restoring Abundance, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Simla, 2001 and in the various books published by the Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai. 

However, almost every sentence in the preamble is backed by impeccable evidence. The so-called eminent historians of India – who seem to get greatly agitated whenever they find any mention of a functioning pre-British India – may want to wish away all this evidence, but that cannot make the evidence disappear. Below, we give some of the easily accessible sources on some aspects of pre-British Indian society mentioned in the preamble. The evidence is of course much more extensive that what can be given within the space of a newspaper article. We are mentioning only those sources that an interested reader of your paper can access to make up his or her mind on whether the preamble to the manifesto has some truth.  

Public Health Care 

The ‘eminent historians’ dismiss the observations of Fa-Hien and Huan Tsang as brief references to the treatment of monks. However, the statements of both observers are far from brief or ambiguous; these are very explicit and detailed. What Fa Hien actually says in this context is: 

“The nobles and householders of this country have founded hospitals within the city, to which the poor of all countries, the destitute, cripples and the diseased may repair. They receive every kind of requisite help gratuitously. Physicians inspect their diseases, and according to their cases, order them food and drink, medicine or decoctions, everything in fact that may contribute to their ease. When cured they depart at ease.” 

The quote is from Fa Hien: A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms, English Translation by J. Legge, Oxford 1886, Delhi Reprint 1971, p.79. Your readers should be able to easily get this book in any good public library. 

Eminent Indian historians, including Romila Thapar, seem to be very disturbed by the observations of the two Chinese travellers about the India of their times, and keep on finding convoluted ways of dismissing them. However, an even more eminent foreign scholar, Dominik Wujastyk, in his The Roots of Ayurveda: Selections from Sanskrit Medical Writings (Penguin Classics, London 2003), concludes the following on the basis of Fa-Hien’s observations: 

“This description by Fa Hsien is one of the earliest accounts of a civic hospital system anywhere in the world and, coupled with Caraka’s description of how a clinic should be equipped… suggests that India may have been the first part of the world to have evolved an organized  metropolitan system of institutionally-based medical provision.” 

Incidentally, there is a much later mention of an almost similar medical care system prevailing in the Chhatrams of Thanjavur. Following the annexation of Thanjavur by the British in 1799, the then Raja of Thanjavur, Sarfojee Mahraja, wrote to the British describing the services available in the Chhatrams and requested them to continue the services uninterrupted. Among the services available at the Chhatrams he mentions: 

“In each Chetrum a teacher to each of the four vedums is appointed, and a Schoolmaster, and Doctors, skilful in the cure of diseases, swellings and the poison of reptiles; all the orphans of strangers, who may come to the Chetrum are placed under the care of the Schoolmaster – they are also fed three times a day, and once in four days, they are anointed with oil – they receive medicine when they require it. Clothes also are given to them and the utmost attention paid to them. They are instructed in the science to which they may express a preference, and after having obtained a competent knowledge of them the expenses of their marriage are defrayed. 

“Travellers who fall sick at the Chetrum or before their arrival, receive medicines, and the diet proper for them, and are attended with respect and kindliness until their recovery. … 

This letter of Sarfojee Maharaj is reproduced in full in Annam Bahu Kurvita: Recollecting the Indeian Discipline of Growing and Sharing Food in Plenty, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai 1996. 

Plastic Surgery and Inoculation 

The eminent historians dismiss the possibility of plastic surgery being practiced in pre-British India. But the operation is mentioned in great detail in the Susruta Samhita and the reference is well-known to those interested in the history of plastic surgery. 

Such operations were being performed in India even in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century is widely reported. Below is an account of the operation from J. C. Carpue, An Account of Two Successful Operations for Restoring a Lost Nose from the Integuments of the forehead …to which are prefixed Historical and Physiological Remarks on the Nasal Operation including Descriptions of the Indian and Italian Methods (London, 1816): 

“It was in this manner that the nasal operation had become forgotten or despised, in at least the west of Europe; when, at the close of the last century, it was once more heard of in England, from a quarter whence mankind will yet, perhaps, derive many lights, as well in science, as in learning and in arts. A periodical publication, for the year 1794, contains the following communication from a correspondent in India, which is accompanied by a portrait of the person mentioned, explanatory of the operation. ‘Cowasjee, a Mahratta, of the caste of husbandman, was a bullock-driver with the English army, in the war of 1792, and was made a prisoner by Tippoo, who cut off his nose, and one of his hands. In this state, he joined the Bombay army near Seringapatam, and is now a pensioner of the Honourable East India Company. For above twelve months, he was wholly without a nose; when he had a new one put on, by a Mahratta surgeon, a Kumar, near Pune. This operation is not uncommon in India, and has been practised from time immemorial. Two of the medical gentlemen, Mr. Thomas Cruse and Mr. James Findlay, of Bombay, have seen it performed as follows… 

The above article has been reprinted in Classics of Medicine Library, Bethesda 1981. Inoculation against small-pox through injection of material derived from the cow – the so-called ‘vaccination’ – was indeed not practised in India; but inoculation with attenuated human small-pox material obtained from previous outbreaks was widespread and is well-documented. One fairly easily available account is that of J. Z. Holwell, FRS, published in 1767.


The eminent historians dismiss the sophistication of pre-British Indian metallurgy with the ridiculous comment that “the iron-pillar at the Qutab has rusted but the rust cannot be seen as it is in the socket at the top”. If after more than a millennia the pillar has rusted only in some invisible corner, than there must be something interesting about Indian metallurgy! In any case, pre-British Indian metallurgy, and especially the Iron Pillar at Delhi, has been studied by knowledgeable and perhaps equally eminent metallurgists, who are fascinated with its early technological sophistication. An easily available reference is the book by Prof. R. Balasubramaniam of IIT Kanpur, Delhi Iron Pillar: New Insights, Delhi 2001. 

Public Education 

The eminent historians are most dismissive of the suggestion that there were public arrangements for school education in India. Instead of giving any data, they merely assert, on the authority of their imputed ‘eminence’, that there were no schools or colleges in India and that education was limited to upper castes. However, there is just too much of evidence available about a widespread system of education in India in the various surveys that the British undertook during the eighteenth century. The evidence of these surveys cannot be dismissed by merely the shake of an eminent head. The details of the surveys have been painstakingly compiled and analysed in Dharampal: The Beautiful Tree, Biblia Impex, Delhi 1983. 

Those who are convinced that India could not have been a functioning society before the arrival of the British in India cannot be easily disabused of their prejudice. But, the readers of the Hindu deserve to know the evidence on the other side also. It is with this intent that we have collated the above brief summary of evidence. 

**Reply of Dr.J.K.Bajaj & Dr. M.D. Srinivas ends**

While the unnamed ghost writers, “eminent historians” don’t seem have to looked into the proofs nor have studied the history properly nor  have done a basic analysis on India’s history,’The Hindu’ has apparently not used its common sense in publishing this concocted article by the so called “eminent historians”.Recently a research was done by Adam Hart-Davis on the ancient civilisations and their impact on the current modern day world.The research has been presented in BBC as a video series.Check here.

Even though the British had left India long ago,their McCaulay education has produced common sense deprived, pseudo intelluctuals like these “eminent historians” and press like ‘The Hindu’.It seems these people are still believing in Aryan Invasion theory,which has been proven wrong scientifically.But why “The Hindu” and its editor-in-chief have allowed this article to be published even though it lacks any evidence and common sense?May be this and this could be the reasons.

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