Authors: Sunita Malkani & Apjit Bassi
Pages: 108 in paperback
Price: Rs. 225/-
LEARNING HISTORY AND LEARNING FROM IT
This book is a collection of contemporary stories of Indian history revolving around the characters Harshita, Yum, Ali, Joseph, Kokila and Mandeep who are good friends hailing from different parts of India but studying in the same school. Their experiences of travelling back into different periods of Time from Early Civilization to India’s Independence, give readers get a fair idea of the gamut of emotions that the children felt. And it also gives glimpses of India’s vast and complex civilization, culture, languages, diversity, religious tolerance, and how modern architecture, pottery, jewellery and artefacts have their roots beginning from early times. The two authors, both experienced educationists, have put together a mosaic aimed at creating consciousness about India’s history and a much- needed sense of pride in its culture. The book is also a reminder of how Indians have been deprived of much of India’s history, including important parts of it which affect it till today.
Over 16 chapters the authors have woven fantasy stories of the group of young friends traveling through time to various locations and interacting with characters related not only to kings/rulers of the dynasties that ruled in ancient/medieval India, but also Gods and Goddesses, some of who, like Gautam Buddha are part of history and others, who are part of Hindu mythology. The children’s meetings and conversations with people from those eras — Harip the potter, Budhi the bikshu (also ‘bhikshu’, meaning a Hindu or Buddhist monk or religious mendicant), Chandu the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, Nataraja (the dancing Shiva from the Chola period), Jahanara, Lakhi Shah (Guru Tegh Bahadur’s devotee), Tipan (great grand uncle of Tipu Sultan), Krushna (Shivaji’s horse), and the talking kites flying high on Independence Day — help us to understand India’s history in a different perspective.
The second chapter explains the Gayatri Mantra, a basic Hindu religious chant, Aum Bhoor Bhuvah Swaha, Tat Savitur Varenyam, Bhargo Devasaya Dheemahi, Dhiyo Yo Naha Prachodayat, considered to be the oldest, highest and most powerful of all the mantras, translated as “Oh God! You are the giver of life / The remover of sorrow and pain / And the bestower of happiness / Oh! Creator of the World / Give us your supreme sin-destroying light / and guide our intellect in the right direction.” This chapter also touches on the Vedas compiled by Vyasa Krishna Dwaipayana around the time of Lord Krishna. The Mahabharata and Ramayana were written around 1500 BC. The four Vedas (scriptures)—Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda—are considered the sacred texts of the Hindus. He also wrote eighteen Puranas and Brahmasutras. It mentions how teachings were also handed down by word of mouth and that the caste system was born in that period. Society was divided into four castes: Brahmins (the learned), Kshatriyas (the warriors), Vaishyas (the traders), and Shudras (the out castes, those who performed menial jobs).
The chapter on the vast Mauryan dynasty mentions that its founder Chandra Gupta Maurya drove the Greeks out of Punjab after Alexander the Great left India in 316 BC and how under the guidance of his advisor/mentor, Kautilya, also called Chanakya, he expanded his kingdom up to Bihar and other parts of the Gangetic plains, central India, and parts of the Deccan. Chandra Gupta Maurya was succeeded in 279 BC by his son Bindusara, who extended the empire up to Mysore. When Bindusara died, his son Ashoka, coronated as king in 270 BC, proved to be the most famous and powerful ruler of the Mauryan dynasty. He extended his empire from Hindu Kush and the Himalayas in the north to River Pennar in the south. The conquest of Kalinga was a turning point in his life. In the battle, thousands were massacred, wounded, or taken as prisoners. Seeing the bloodshed, the horrific sight left him full of grief and remorse. He decided to give up war and follow Lord Buddha’s teachings.’
While the book is delightful and informative, it has come at a time when a process of churning is on in India, when much of history/facts suppressed or twisted for almost seven decades after Independence, began coming up to the surface, resulting in a lot of conflict between the ruling and defeated political parties and impacting majorly on the lives of India’s many billions of diverse communities and religions. If you do not learn history, you cannot learn from it and hence, you are bound to suffer because of not learning from it, because of the way it shapes the future. It is quite evident that India has been a classic case of this syndrome. Independent India’s founding government did not allow much of India’s actual and important pre and post-Independence history to be part of the syllabus for education in schools and colleges.
In an article titled The Plot to Suppress Vedic Archaeology in India, written by Stephen Knapp, for Sanskriti (10 March 2018), he states: “We have to realise that there was a comprehensive strategy to overlook, cover and falsify the real history of India. Not only did invading Muslims try to do this over the centuries, but the British, while in India, also played a heavy hand in this.” In 1947, when India got freedom after centuries of being marauded and ruled over by Mughals and British, the ruling Congress party decided to continue the suppression and alteration of history. This has created ‘minefields’, some of which like a few universities and ‘Shaheen Baghs’, have exploded and some more at least, which may explode in the future. Two classic cases of yet unexploded minefields are the Qutub Minar and the Taj Mahal.
Qutub Minar is the observation tower of an observatory set up as Dhruv Sthambh (Dhruv-Pole star and stambh-tower) by noted astronomist Varah Mihir at the behest of King Vikramaditya, much before the birth of Islam. The Arabic scripts and motifs were retro-installed by Qutb-ud-din Aibak between 1191 – 1210 AD, followed by his successors Iltutmish, Alauddin etc till 1315 AD.
Viewed from the top, Qutub Minar looks like a geometric lotus with 24 petals, denoting 24 hours of the day and an astronomical dial representing the twelve rashis (Zodiac signs). The lotus is definitely not an Islamic symbol, but an ancient vedic symbol . Mehrauli, the township adjoining the Qutub Minar is a corruption of the word Mihirawali, after Varaha Mihira, of Vikramaditya’s court, who lived there along with his helpers, mathematicians and technicians.
They used this observatory for astronomical study. While climbing the 365 steps, for 365 days of the year, there are 27 windows oriented to view the 27 constellations of Vedic Astrology.
About the world-famous Taj Mahal, apart from the love stories of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz, there is a mysterious tale about secret rooms inside this monument which are not accessible to the common public. While there are also rumours and claims by some including one Mr. P.N. Oak, about the Taj Mahal being built over ‘Tejo Mahalaya’, a Shiv temple behind these doors, what is unusual is why the government has not allowed access to whatever is behind those doors.
Although it is for children, this book can be enjoyed by grownups too. But the possibility of some future changes in India’s history with reference to the two monuments mentioned and other aberrations or suppressed or twisted facts cannot be ruled out. Can we dare to hope that we will correct history and then learn from it?
The writer is editor WordSword Features. He is also a strategic analyst and former spokesperson, Defence Ministry and Indian Army, and can be contacted at [email protected]