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India's rulers making desparate attempt to "date" Mahabharata, Ramayana: Romila Thapar

Counterview Desk
Well-known historian Romila Thapar has said that the function of a public intellectual is to make knowledge accessible and protect it from distortion, “hence it is essential that knowledge advances through questioning”. Talking with human rights activist Teesta Setalvad in an interview, Thapar has added, “The need of the hour explore the real history of science in order to explore real achievements from early India.”
Speaking out against “irrational claims” of scientific learning, as reflected by Sangh Parivar “intellectuals”, Thapar said, there is a need to understand “how true knowledge in all fields emerged from deep observation and evolved with rigorous scientific testing.”
Thapar is emeritus professor of history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and has been honoured with D Litt at the University of Oxford and the University of Chicago. Twice, in 1992 and 2005, she has refused the Padmabhushan.
Winner of the 2008 prestigious Kluge Prize for the study of humanity, an honour reserved for disciplines like history, which is not covered by the Nobel Prize, she is the author of path-breaking approaches to history, from Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas to forging contemporary identities through history.
“Navigating the world of history through a multi-dimensional and incisive lens, Thapar spoke on the criticality of independence and courage in the public intellectual, especially today, given the authoritarian tendencies of the regime in power in New Delhi”, Setalvad said.
Thapar told Setalvad, “Our early Indian traditions were questioning and skeptical, always testing knowledge through the prism of rationality. Today there is a need to face political challenges dictated by the current regime in Delhi. It is essential that we proudly claim this tradition and not succumb to predominant irrational discourse.”
The top historian said, “The desperate need of the current dispensation to date our great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, when historians of repute have spent the past 80-100 years testing them, stems from a political motivation to claim Indian history, religion and tradition to a single, politically dominant discourse.”
Thapar explained the “Ramayana composed by Valmiki is one version of the epic, the Buddhist Jataka (Dashrath Jatak) has another version of the same tale, and there is also a Jain version. These are all different versions of the Ram Katha that offer fascinating insights into the early Indian period of history.”
In the interview, running into 12 parts, Thapar dwelled on how colonial historiography contributed to the seminal discourse and the motivations (political, economic and social) behind the desecration of religious monuments in world history.
“It is critical for an understanding of how history should be approached and offers fascinating incites on early travelers into the Indian sub-continent, be it the Greeks, the Chinese or Al Beruni”, she said, even as delving into two parallel streams represented by the ‘Brahmans’ and the ‘Shramans’. She also talked of Asoka’s Dhamma and the Kalinga War, the great monarch and his relationship with the people, and the true historiography behind the narrative of the Somnatha temple and its destruction.
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Watch the interview at http://www.sabrang.com/cc/ccinterviews/RomilaThapar.htm

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