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To new ICHR chief, evidence is not important to "fix" historicity of Ramayana, Mahabharata

By Our Representative
Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, new chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), is all set to trigger in a new period of what he calls “real history”, proudly claiming that he has no qualms in declaring his appointment is “political.” Involved in a project to “fix” the date of Mahabharata war, Rao has said, “The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are true accounts of the periods in which they were written”, contesting historians DD Kosambi and Romila Thapar who have seen them only as great epics having different versions added to them for over 1,000 years. To him, they are “myths from a western perspective” alone.
In a recent interview, Rao, who has widely been described as “RSS man”, insists on the need to “think about India’s history from an Indian perspective”. And for this he reasons thus: “For the last 60 years, our writing and understanding of history has been influenced by the west. Indian research has been far too dependent on the West to write its own history. We are dependent on their translations and interpretation. And, these are my personal views, history writing in India is Euro-centric and imperialistic.”
Questioning those who say he is a political appointee, Rao says, to question his new posting “is to question democracy itself” because he has been elected by a democratically elected government. “Unlike other social institutes, the ICHR attracts a lot of attention because history is an important subject. But history belongs to the people. We have not shown or written a comprehensive history of India to the people of India. History is by the people, for the people and of the people”, he declares.
Reflecting on the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, Rao says, instead of going into the evidence whether they were true of false, these should be from the angle of “the collective memory of generations of Indians.” He explains, “Western schools of thought look at material evidence of history. We can’t produce material evidence for everything. India is a continuing civilisation. To look for evidence would mean digging right though the hearts of villages and displacing people. We only have to look at the people to figure out the similarities in their lives and the depiction in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.”
Giving an instance, Rao says, “The Ramayana mentions that Rama had travelled to Bhad­ra­chalam (in Andhra Pradesh). A look at the people and the fact that his having lived there for a while is in the collective memory of the people cannot be discounted in the search for material evidence. In continuing civilisations such as ours, the writing of history cannot depend only on archaeological evidence. We have to depend on folklore too.”
Insisting that the “real history has to come through”, referring to Ayodhya, Rao recalls the way “mosques as structures came to be in India in 1000 AD?” He asks, “Is it not a fact that the mosque was built by a lieutenant of Babur?”, adding, “A historian can only enlighten people on the facts of history. Historians can at best say evidence of earlier remains of a Hindu structure are there. If Ayodhya is not the place of Ram, where did he live? Looking at the present structures in Ayodhya, we can see people still living the way that finds a mention in the Ramayana.”
Admitting that the question of untouchability is “relatively recent, as recent as 3,000 years”. Rao asks, “Did we hear of untouchability before this period of 3,000 years? Let me give you an example. Sage Vishwamitra went to a Dalit hut and asked for dog’s meat as he was hungry. The Ramayana and Mahabharata are replete with instances of different castes, did we find a mention of untouchability there?”
Calling himself “a Hindu and a Brahmin”, Rao says, “To be a Hindu isn’t a religion. In my personal practices, I can adopt religious practices of the community to which I belong—as a Shaivite or a Vaishnavite. But that is not what being a Hindu is about. Reli­gi­ons are recent manifestations. I feel the­re’s only Sanatana Dharma. There was no conflict between communities or on religious lines as there was only one sanatana dharma. Now there are several reasons for conflict to take place.”
He explains, “Muslims are the only ones who have retained their distinct culture. Can Christians or Muslims say all religions are one? A Hindu can say that. There was no conflict when there was sanatana dharma, Conflict or contests came about when temples were destroyed and mosques built on the sites in medieval times… Thousands of people killed as they were in the raids to the Somnath temple…”
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Also see: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Ancient-caste-system-worked-well-ICHR-head-says/articleshow/38401312.cms

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