Babur [right] and Humayun with Courtiers (Detail), Late Shahjahan Period, ca. 1650.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Leave history. take any discipline,. be it social ,technical, or material or metaphysical, the history of any discipline needs to be put under appropriate heads in order to make the study easier and also to have a near-clear idea about the events. but the thing which should be taken care of, is the heads or the basis on which the periodization is made.

the history of man’s progress on this earth is linked-subtly or grossly- to each other ,in that case when we study the invasion of the Arabs in sind, we should also look at their coming in Spain and other Mediterranean countries, in order to analyze the nature, intension and consequences of invasion. with the coming of the Mughals,the chaghtai turks,as Babar preferred to be called, one needs to have a look at the contemporary safavid and Ottoman empires ,the struggle between these big empires, the history of their rivalry ,in order to have a more rational and broad based knowledge of the Mughals .look at any other discipline , periodisation is necessary,be it literature ,science ,even business studies, in order to look at the nature of advancement of the discipline ,which whether ameliorated or degenerated., periodisation is often made ,and in that case ,purely for a comparative study ,with an object of an analytical approach to the whole picture.therefore,if we try not to periodise or demarcate or try to generalize history of any discipline,we may find it too difficult to interpret, realize and above all understand. Generalization as an alternative is too puerile, but a careful and genuine periodization is what we ask for.

Now before blaming the British,for the conventional periodization of Indian history into ancient,medieval and modern,there should have some gratitude for them as the history which they have constructed-be it faulty and defective ,particularly in approach ,if not in facts-was for a long time and is still, according to some historians ,serve as the basis for construction of history of India, which undergoes alteration ,modification, ,revision and criticism at every attempt of rewriting, the amount of hard work which they had put in to study the original texts and interpreting or deciphering the vast inscriptions --do serve as the basis of reading and writing of Indian history, subsequently. but did the British have a feeling or rather were sure of the fact that Indians have a general lack of constructing history of their own and therefore they are bestowing their support to make us realize our own forgotten and buried culture and be thankful to them forever for such a contribution? Like any other Indian,I do not prefer to be called historically challenged or apathetic and are ignorant of our past culture. well,yes we do not have such writings which can be called proper history, except RAJTARANGINI by KALHANA ,(according to M. Athar’s difficult not to call it authentic)but we must look at the amount of history produced with the coming of the muslims/turks in the country ,we do appreciate their initiative to write down the history of their coming(CHACHNAMA,being close to authentic, according to Athar Ali) their assimilation into the culture of the newly acquired land, and the building of a concrete empire, Hindustan(not a nation.till now)the achievements of their sultans, some sources do also openly criticize, portray some of their atrocities (ISAMI,BARANI)and some are vivid descriptions of their rulers’ benevolence and the social and economic transformation of Hindustan under the muslim rulers(abul fazl).we do now count them as our history-as we no longer call them ‘mlechchas’ or alien, barbarians ,as we now know that they, specially the Mughals did come to India not only to acquire the land but also to settle and live -unlike the contemporary mentality and hatred of the the ‘hindus’. detecting another dimension to this which I cannot stop mentioning, is that the above muslim historians are now considered to be ours,(or are they?)as their patron sultans are now considered to be rulers of India-is I hope not igniting another question ,that is the lack of history writing on ‘our’ part before coming of the muslims, the court bards and chronicles(which were written before and continued even after coming of the muslims) which fall short in being authentic and secular in comparison to the histories which were constructed by the muslim historians,as commented by J.N.Sarkar in the ‘History of historiography of the medieval period’ .if clearly stated ,it should sound more like, we accepted the histories of the muslim writers as we didn’t have such critical and well constructed history writing or the mentality to record the events of our day to day life for posterity, as Prof. Sarkar has commented that it was a gift to the people of this land by the muslim historians who sometimes accompanied or were commissioned by the muslim rulers,which serve as the basic structure for subsequent history writing of the land.on the other hand, Uttara Ma’am has given us a long list of indigenous writers ,mainly by rajput rajas and the people who were employed at different levels of administration of the muslim rulers. yes,they too serve as authentic records as the muslim histories, but perhaps not as popular or talked about as the histories of the muslim or arab historians.what should be the reason for this?
Thus,I do not wish to but rather bound to feel that history of India is constructed by people who came from outside,and not by the people of the land themselves. my fellow members of the blog may differ and present examples to prove me wrong, and which I dearly want in order to to be enlightened by the information which I am nor aware of. Now coming to the point where I was trying to lead to, the vehement criticism which we generally indulge in ,is the wrong periodisation of Indian history into three periods,on the basis of mainly religion and the sentiments which are generally attached to it ,and which has already been mentioned by Pratyay da in a previous post. in an earlier post there has been mentioned that regional history is generally ignored in case of generalizing history into the three broad heads (ancient, medieval and modern), I would like to mention two books in this regard which deal with regional history and which also suffer, the conventional barbarity which is generally associated with the history of the coming of Islam. In Abdul Karim’s ‘BANGALAR ITIHASH,SULTANI AMOL’,prof Karim has particularly shown the spirit of invasion of the muslim sultans,but he also mentions the skirmishes and rivalry which existed among the muslims(for e.g.-the rivalry among the khilji maliks in lucknawti)and in NIHARRANJAN RAY’s BANGALIR ITIHASH,ADI PORBO,in which he mentioned the peaceful and centralized structure-a pan Indian feeling- which was in vogue in Bengal in pre-medieval times, and which lasted till the commencement of the Gupta period and after which it assumed a regional structure. This very notion is generally linked with the coming of the Islam or rather the Arabs,a kind of regionalism linked with medievalism, however, this notion has subsequently been refuted by historians with suitable and strong examples and which somewhat was successful to controvert the idea.

Not only do the periodisation and the general characteristics linked with the different periods ,suffer from defects, there were terms used by the colonial rulers which only mislead the reader. For e.g. The Constitution of India states that "India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states. India and Bharat are official short names for the Republic of India; whereas,Hindustan is mostly used in historical contexts (especially British India). Today these three terms are interchangeably used to refer to the political and national entity that is identified as India. But the term Hindustan did mean different during the medieval period. The rulers in the Sultanate and Mughal periods called their Indian dominion, centered around Delhi as Hindustan. in the thirteenth century Minhajus Siraj, a chronicler who wrote in Persian, meant the areas of Punjab, Haryana and the lands between the Ganga and Yamuna. He used the term in a political sense for the lands that were a part of the dominions of the Delhi Sultanate. In the early sixteenth century Babur used Hindustan to describe the geography, the fauna and the culture of the inhabitants of the subcontinent.
Hindustan was in use synonymously with India during the British Raj. In the 19th century, the term as used in English referred to the northern region of India between the Indus and Brahmaputra and between the Himalayas and the Vindhyas in particular, hence the term Hindustani for the Hindi-Urdu language. Thus, while the idea of a geographical and cultural entity like “India” did exist during medieval period, the term Hindustan did not carry the political and national meanings which we perceive today, it was only a product of the British construction of Indian history.
I have already mentioned above that periodization is often made to bring in a comparative study of history which also would have been the reason or logic in case of periodising Indian history by the British ,in order to compare it with the ‘modern’ period and to try to portray the progress and advancement which existed during the modern period and to suggest a general lacking in advancement during the period which existed before it i.e. the muslim period.this notion has been vehemently attacked by historians and in their alteration of the general idea of backwardness, they also refuted the idea of regionalism, which was often associated with the period before coming of the English rulers, i.e. the medieval times.

To conclude, one must take chronology i.e. time into account in case of historical study.for a historian time not only signifies different periods but also portrays changes in society, ideas and beliefs,periodisation only helps to recognize the past developments with the changing time and in doing so it develops a bridge among the similar characteristics which are shared by the different that case,we do not need to periodise social change under any rigid head ,for can study the period from the accession of Aurangzib to the throne upto the revolt of 1857(which according to the conventional periodisation fall under both medieval or muslim and modern or British period)one can always wish to extend the study as long as she wishes and doesnot have to be labeled as an ancient,medieval or modern historian,as I have heard many students having interest in a particular period of history which fall in both ancient and medieval or medieval and modern,and sometimes- queerly enough- ancient and modern(to go by the conventional periodisation)and in some other cases one may dislike to read certain portions of the course which usually fall under a particular curriculum in the conventional programme of study-ancient,medieval and modern. in case of this kind of reading one can always study as extensively as possible ,according to her wishes.this should not give the present reader of this post ,a feeling that I am talking in favour of a generalization.i am only thinking of a kind of study which is only demarcated by dates or centuries[for e.g.1658(the year of Aurangzib’s accession)to 1857(the great revolt)]one can first select the years which she wishes to read And then periodize, accordingly. do I sound illogical or is it a dull and Utopian suggestion?i took the liberty to be as imaginative as possible, but in doing so if I sound a bit ultra-imaginative or inordinate or unreasonable, I must be alerted. I may also err in giving some or all of the information. I am open to criticism.



somak said...

well, the post is certainly elaborate in its exposition but i do feel the statement that 'hindustan' did not convey any 'political or national' meaning as we understand today merits serious qualification. as to political, the term certainly had a political connotation, howsoever vague, to refer to certain geographical areas that varied greatly from author to author. for ex: Al Biruni in his Kitab-al-hind(1035), actually defines the geography of the country as limited in the south by the indian ocean, and on all three other sides by the lofty mountains. In 1318, Amir khusrau also states in his metrical work 'nuh sipihr' that 'hind was the land of his birth, ....the love of one's native land(watan) is part of one's faith(iman)'.Isami's 'ode to india' (1350) also reflects this maturity of hindustan as a political and cultural domain. clearly, one may assume that the idea of a cultural community fosters the idea of a political community. chris bailey has also argued for the existence of a pre-colonial nationalism as evident from the terms 'watan', 'qaum' etc. it may not have been a modern idea of nationalism , but they can surely be called a sort of proto-nationalism. also, while defining his realm, Akbar did use the term Hindustan as a politico-cultural construct. thus, it may not have had a pan-indian vision while envisaging hindustan, but it can certainly be conceived of as a stage in the evolution of this idea. perhaps, a case of limited nationalism after all. hence to categorise hindustan as a term that did not evoke any political connotation or otherwise, is perhaps gravely incorrect.

Pratyay said...

Tanima, congratulations on such a detailed and provocative post. A few points need to be made, not as criticism though, but as thoughts expressed aloud.

As you said during your presentation as well, you believe that the British have not been given their due credit for introducing the modern discipline of history to us. But how can we forget the concomitant ideologies and politics that came with this? How can we forget that history was the mask to legitimise political occupation, military subjugation, economic exploitation and colonial rule? If the Indian subcontinent could have managed without any of these latter experiences, what was the need for the modern discipline of history here? History would have taken a different path, but could we not been able to do without it?

You have said, '...the idea of a geographical and cultural entity like “India” did exist during medieval period...'. I disagree with this strongly. The present nation state of India gained its form only in the nineteenth century and coincides roughly with the British empire of this time. There were only various regional identities and conceptualisations like Hindustan (meaning land beyond Indus, signifying mainly the Ganga Basin), Rajwarra (roughly modern rajasthan), Bangla (Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta), al-Hind (entire south and south-east Asia beyond the Indus)etc. Of course, you may differ. But how would you argue your case for it?

You have argued a case for making dates and centuries the basis for division/periodisation of history. As examples of the dates, you have cited the dates of two political events. Fine. But what about economy, religion, society, culture? Do they have such dates? How do we compare the culture, economy, commerce of two different time periods then? Wouldn't the centering of dates make us re-oriented towards political history? And what about the histories of the millions of unnamed peasants, workers, traders, priests, witches, madmen etc whose dates we have no idea about?

Just to give you some food for thought. Think about it. :)

@Somak: You clearly have located the seeds of the Indian nation in its medieval history and argued your case for it. But tell me, would the whole of North East India be there in India, if the British had not conquered them from Tibet and Burma? This is just an example to point out that the Indian nation state as we know it today is entirely a product of British colonial conquests. watan/qaum were terms that I don't think remotely resembled the modern notions of nation/national community.

somak said...

north-east was never considered contiguous to hindustan as it was hardly ever conquered systematically. i have argued that the roots of this proto-nationalism were vague, n did not remotely resemble modern nationalism, as u have also pointed out. but the idea of watan or qaum had significant communitarian connotations, that varied from a local qaum to a larger geographical and cultural domain.the indian nation is a result of continuous evolution, one of the latest being the contribution of the british annexations. even in 1857, the pamphlets that were doing the rounds mentioned hindustan as the land of the muslim and hindu brethren. surely, these semi-literate sepoys had little chance to be mobilised by western nationalist thought or discourse, they had rather groped for existing communitarian feelings that could envision their concepton of a watan, in a limited sense though, broadly on the lines of the former mughal empire. what they envisaged certainly does not resemble the indian nation of today, but one can arguably assert that these communitarian ideas got reshaped into modern indian nationalism when it came in contact with european thought. the element has often no separate entity in the compound it makes, but that nevertheless does not diminish its importance.