Indian Classical Texts: Are they History, Mystery or Mythology?

Posted in History, India, politics, Propaganda by Anuraag Sanghi on June 26, 2012

Over the last 8-12 centuries, Indian historical figures have undergone ‘religiofication’. Result – India’s political history has been ‘lost’.

From: The true believer: thoughts on the nature of mass movements  |  By Eric Hoffer  |  Page 6

From: The true believer: thoughts on the nature of mass movements | By Eric Hoffer | Page 6

“Religiofication” as Eric Hoffer defined it, was all about turning practical purposes into holy causes. As noted, this leads to the politicization of religion and the religiofication of politics.

An important element of भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra was restrictions on power of elites over other people. Hence, power to criminalize or demonize people was anti-भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra.

De-Constructing History – And Language, Metaphors Mnemonics

If Indians classics like Mahabharata and Ramayana were mythology, then they would not have so many characters. So many of these characters appear in a line or a few verses and contribute nothing to the ‘story.’ Take the chapter on the descent of Gnaga. There is the vague king called asmanjas – whose name has come to embody dilemma. There is no need for him in the story – yet he is there. He interestingly, reappears in Egypt, in the Amarna tablets as Zananzas.

Now, if we assume that this history, then a lot of the overlays have to deconstructed.

Three de-constructions that I will leave you with: –

1. Sita – the name means furrow – as she was orphan found by Janak. (Unrelated, but Sita was also a vague, Vedic goddess, who we have forgotten, who was the goddess of fertility).

This simply means that she was a child of commoner – and earth’s child. Bhumiputri. Even today, bhumiputra is a political term used in Malaysia to denote natives – as opposed to immigrants.

When her husband’s exile was confirmed, she could have easily stayed back in the royal palace – and awaited the return of her husband. But again, her upbringing comes into play. As a commoner, she valued merit over birth. She would rather enjoy life with her husband than live alone in royal palace.

Again, after marital /political discord, Sita is unworried about royal comforts – and walks out. To reclaim her common life.

When her sons’ attain age, she again walks away and goes back to earth, her common, anonymous life, to prevent any emotional conflict and the dilution of loyalty in her sons towards their royal father, who kingdom they were to inherit.

How many times, we see estranged mothers use their children against the father? Sita eliminated this possibility by going back to earth.

And walking away from her sons.

This deconstruction is consistent with Sita’s meritocratic behavior. If Sita had an iota of entitlement-based thinking, she would have accepted Ravana’s proposal for marriage, instead of a disinherited, wandering, friendless prince that her husband was. She was entitled to all that Ravana was offering. But Sita values on loyalty and meritocratic thinking would not accept that proposal.

This also contrasts against the silly, modern interpretation of defenseless, victim of a patriarchal, backward, social structure.

2. Agnipareeksha – How will a husband, test his wife’s feelings, after nearly ten years of separation? After ten years of loneliness? If she still loved a disinherited, wandering, friendless prince that her husband was?

Even after victory over Ravana, Rama did not have a kingdom or a home.Remember that Bharat was anointed king of Bharata by Dashratha, and ruling over Ayodhya.

Rama did not know that a welcome awaited him. If Bharata decided there could have been another war to reclaim Ayodhya. And another few years of agony for Sita.

How would a husband test his wife’s love in such a situation?


I think not!

What could be the alternate meanings of agni, fire in such a situation? Was ‘agni‘ a metaphor?

3. War and women in India – If you read Mahabharata, after the war, it is the women of the slain warriors who do the final funerary rites. These soldiers had come Keykaya (Iran). Gandhara (Balochistan), Pragjyotishpura (Assam-Bengal-Afghanistan) etc.

How long would it take for messengers to reach their homes, and bring the women? Were the bodies rotting for so long? Disease, pollution from thousands of bodies lying for weeks would have made Kurukshetra unlivable.

Did the wives travel with the soldiers?

I believe they did?

Remember how after the Third Battle of Panipat, some 20,000 odd women were taken as captives? Similarly if you read the accounts of Nunez, the 16th century European chronicler in India, he talks of many women accompanying the soldiers. Nunez thinks they were prostitutes – because he could not imagine loyal wives who would follow their husbands to battle.

Why is Krishna Worshipped

Krishna was a completely different story. Off the top, I can think of the ten really big achievements.

1. Unarmed Combat: – Krishna’s killing of Kaiwalyapidu, Kamsa’s rogue elephant, the deaths of Chanura and Mustika and of Kamsa himself were all chronicles in unarmed combat, where as children, Krishna and Balarama showed that even children can defend themselves. This went later to China – and we have the birth of Kung-fu.

2. Kill-and-eat: Krishna pioneered the grow-and-eat economy with dairy as the backbone of the food chain. He started with the cleaning of Yamuna – which I presume was heavily polluted by endless dumping of meat-waste. You only have to see how animal fat is extracted or glue (sares) made from animal waste (bones and skins) to understand how polluting this is.

Krishna, it was who probably, replaced animal fat with dairy fat – and his love of butter was an indicator of this change. Krishna’s jumping into the polluted Yamuna, to get his ball, and the killing of Kaaliya nag, is how he cleaned the Yamuna – by transforming a kill-and-eat food system to grow-and-eat system.

3. Animal Husbandry: He also pioneered the taming of the bull-calf – which is why he is called natho.

4.Agriculture: Balarama pioneered ploughing and irrigation – the backbone of agriculture.

5. Transportation: As a charioteer he popularized fast transportation – which is why you will find him in all parts of India.

6. Plant Breeding: He brought the legendary Parijaat tree – which is the famous Baobab tree from probably West Asia or Africa (supposedly flying on a Garuda). Baobab tree is unique tree that lives for hundreds of years, can store enough water for a small village population, and its fruit and leaves have great nutritive value.

7. Escape From Superstition: Krishna swept away all the superstitions and ancient folk-gods during the Goverdhan incident.

8. Diplomacy: He laid out principles of diplomacy during Shishupal Vadh and his peace embassy before the War of Mahabharata.

9. Marriage & Society: He also reinforced the principles of free marital choice in the Subhadra-Arjun incident with well-structured arguments and negotiations.

10. His warcraft was second to none – which is why he alone was enough for the Pandavas. He was the inventor of the discus – the Sudarshana chakra. As an expert war-charioteer, he played a crucial role in Mahabharata.

Thus Krishna’s contribution in politics, ethics, combat-and-warcraft, transportation, animal husbandry, agriculture have never been duplicated in history.

Krishna’s two most famous killings were Kamsa and Jarasanda. Both these rulers were prolific ‘imprisoners’. Krishna killed both of them – and Narakasura. All three have been mentioned as rulers who imprisoned people.

How many people were imprisoned in Ram Rajya? How many people did Yudhisthira or Yadava Krishna imprison?

Here is an interesting review of literature and treatment of Krishna in India – over the centuries. The narrative below misses out many such points  – but remains a powerful study of the forgotten colossus – the political Krishna.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote Krishna-Charitra in 1886. Since then, more than a century has gone by. This work of Bankim, one of the finest in Bengali literature, has remained within the confines of Bengali, totally unknown to the vast readership of the country as well as of the world. Bankim brought Krishna out from a maze of confusion and misinterpretations created by myriads of interpolations and inexactitudes propagated by many ill-informed and little-informed Western writers. He had the gigantic task of separating the grain from the chaff in his quest for the historicity of Krishna and, in that process, to some extent, that of the Mahabharata.

Bankim’s was the first attempt to establish the historicity of Krishna and consequently of that portion of the Mahabharata that deals with Krishna. In the process we find that Krishna emerges as a supreme human being with all the desirable human qualities in all their resplendence, and not as a God churning out miracle after miracle from his divine repertoire. Bankim put forward Krishna as an ideal before the nation to be emulated, to be followed as a ideal man and not to be worshipped as a god who remains a Utopian dream forever.

Bankim was a pioneer, a pathfinder who limited his study only to Krishna, basing his research entirely on cold logic and scientific analysis. He destroyed some extremely popular myths which had found their way into the socio-cultural milieu of the entire country, namely the miraculous slaying of Kamsa, Jarasandha, Sishupala, Jayadratha and Drona. He established them as a simple matter of normal battle, bereft of any divine interference of godly prowess or base political machination.

Bankim began to write Krishna-Charitra as a skeptic but by the time he reached the end he had become a devotee of Krishna, an ardent believer in Krishna as God.

Bankim identified the decadent ‘Babus’ in Kamalakanter Daptar, Muchiram Gur etc., lashed at them viciously and resurrected Krishna from confusion, misinterpretation and intellectual oblivion to put him up before them as an idea who must be followed, emulated, as an ideal around whom they should mould their own personalities. Like the proverbial phoenix, must arise a generation of rejuvenated youth, conscious of their responsibility in a subject country, led by the hand of the Krishna he had created. Bankim provided Krishna. We have seen the excellent impact of it in the history of our Independence.

Why did Bankim choose Krishna and not Rama, the other epic hero who could do no wrong’ the maryada purushottama considered the ideal human being throughout the length and breadth of the country? There is a reason. Bankim was mainly concerned with Bengal. He was a part of the Bengal Renaissance and his target population was the Bengali. He wrote in Bengali for the Bengali reader and Rama is not the popular deity in Bengal. It is Krishna throughout. Therefore, he decided to deal with the character of Krishna. He knew that he could get the attention of the common Bengali only if he wrote Krishna-Charitra and not Rama-Charitra. But he found the Krishna of Chaitanya, the Krishna of the brilliant Vaishnava poets Jayadev, Vidyapati, Chandidas etc., the Krishna of the Bhakti cult, a romantic, erotic and rather soppy Krishna who went about gallivanting in the groves of Vrindavana along with Radha, Chandravali and other gopis, playing his irresistible flute. The whole of Bengal was drowned in the worship of this Krishna.

Instead of the emotionalism of the lyric poet, he brought out the toughness of the epic poet. He attempted to replace the erotic Krishna of the Bhagavata, Harivamsa, Chaitanya and the Vaishnava poets by the tremendously powerful personality of the epic, totally divested of his godhood, and involved in nation building, shifting power centers, politics, diplomacy, using peace and war according to requirement’ in short, using his overpowering but human wisdom and intelligence in the struggle for supremacy, resulting finally in the establishment of truth over falsehood, of good over evil, and of right over wrong. Here we find a Krishna bathed in the brutality and complexity of real-life struggle who is far removed from the flute-wielding romantic totally immersed in inane activities like hallisha krida. We find a strategist, a diplomat and a warrior, instead of a lover, a stealer of women’s hearts and butter and cheese.

The tremendous political acumen of Krishna is highlighted in the way he used all the four principles of Dandaniti to destroy the malignant power centers, create new alliances that emerged as counter balances to the existing power structure and use diplomacy to bolster the Yadava interest. He used war and peace, he used marriages and he used his basic superior intelligence for this one purpose. Consequently, the Yadavas accepted him as their supreme commander. It took some time. It also took some effort. But in the final analysis, he emerged as the leader whose judgement and veracity could not be disputed. His political acumen combined with his sharp intellect, personal courage and physical prowess established him as a major force. The contemporary powers came to regard the Yadavas under Krishna with respect and fear. It has not been spelt out clearly anywhere in the Mahabharata but his guiding principle must have been the establishment of a Yadava hegemony on the political map of northern India. Every evidence seems to indicate that. To understand his plans and actions clearly, the political situation of the country at the time of Krishna must be visualized.

The prevalent political situation has its roots in Yayati’s lust. He gave the kingdom of Pratisthana (later shifted to Hastinapura by Hasti and his son Vaikunthan) to his youngest son Puru, depriving his other sons, Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu. Consequently, they established themselves elsewhere in the country. For the purpose of our discussion, we shall ignore the others as they are not relevant and concentrate in the progeny of only Yadu and Puru, i.e. the Yadavas and the Pauravas.

Between Yayati and Yudhisthira and Krishna, there are twenty-six generations. Much naturally happened during these years. We find a sort of internal conflict within the Paurava and Yadava clans and also existence of bad blood between the Yadavas and Pauravas. These naturally had developed and distanced the clans and sub-clans over a period covering these twenty-six generations. The main Paurava line continued at Hastinapura. We find Dhritarastra ruling a very powerful political assemblage that included such stalwarts as Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Kama, Ashvatthama, Vidura and Sakuni.

Another line of the Pauravas left Hastinapura (or were made to leave) and conquered Chedi from the Yadavas. This was another reason for the Yadava-Paurava enmity that began with the ouster of Yadu. Later, of course, this line re-established the Yadavas at Chedi and moved on to establish their sway in Magadha. We find one of the finest statesmen of the time, ruling at Magadha was Jarasandha, who easily was superior to any contemporary, including Krishna, in might, diplomacy and power. He even managed to alienate the Southern Yadavas from the mainline Yadavas of Mathura and bring them inseparably under his tutelage. This Paurava line became supremely antagonistic towards the Mathura Yadavas after the slaying of Kamsa. Jarasandha vowed to annihilate them totally.
The third Paurava line went and established themselves at Panchala (around Badaun, Bareilly etc.), and were known as the Panchalas. There was bitter enmity between these relations and neighbours which even the gap of generations could not dilute. In fact it went on increasing, finally culminating in the Kuru-Panchala War.

The Yadavas spread all over. The mainline Yadavas remained in and around Mathura. Other lines went to Dvaraka, Mahismati, Vidarbha. Chedi, Avanti, Dasharna, even up to Mysore. The entire Paurava kingdom practically was surrounded by the Yadavas. But though the Yadavas were a large clan, there was no cohesion among them. There was a lot of conflict within the Mathura Yadavas, mainly due to Kamsa who became king after imprisoning his father Ugrasena. There was no peace due to the power struggle between Andhakas, Shinis, Sattvatas, Vrishnis etc. The southern Yadavas were not friendly towards the Mathura Yadavas. Even though two of Vasudeva’s sisters were married to the kings of Karusha Chedi, they remained firmly on the side of Jarasandha who took advantage of the situation. He married his daughters to Kamsa, supported him in his ascendancy and brought Mathura too under his control. In this way, it was Jarasandha who controlled the entire Yadava clan for some time. Even when Jarasandha attacked the Mathura Yadavas, Vidarbha, Chedi, Dasharna, Avanti, Karusha etc. joined his imperial forces.

Besides these warring relatives, there were other power centers in the country. The most important were the Matsyas of Virata (Jaipur of today) who played a vital role in shaping the course of history of the time, Salva of Sauva (Punjab) and Paudrak Vasudeva of Anga, Pundravardhana etc. Also, there were Gonanda of Kashmir, Subala of Gandhara, etc. These were all friendly towards Jarasandha and joined the imperial forces in their campaign against Mathura.

This, in very short, was the political situation of northern India when Krishna appeared on the scene with his heroic abilities, superior intellect and tremendous political foresight. He, having been thrown into the situation, was quite clear in his objective. He had to retrieve the Yadavas from the political quagmire into which they had fallen and slowly re-establish them as the supreme power in North India to take their rightful place as the heirs of Yayati by replacing the usurpers, the Pauravas. His course of action was also clear to him. He had to bring back unity among the belligerent Yadavas. He achieved this which a master’stroke of diplomacy, a combination of brain and brawn. He slew Kamsa and his henchmen but did not assume power himself. Neither did he put Vasudeva, his father, on the throne. Instead, he brought back Ugrasena, Kamsa’s hapless father and set him on the throne. This endeared him to all the Yadavas, irrespective of clans, including Kamsa’s supporters. Then, when Jarasandha attacked to avenge the death of his son-in-law, he kindled the Yadavas with the spirit of patriotism and provided inimitable leadership in the defence of Mathura. It is a remarkable achievement of Krishna that he was able to defend Mathura with a handful of Yadavas against the colossal imperial army that included practically all the major powers of India, namely, Salva, Gonanda of Kashmir, Chedi, Bhishmaka, Virata and of course Duryodhana and his brothers. This imperial force was thwarted time and again not only by Krishna’s personal courage and prowess, but also by the leadership provided by him. All the Yadavas stood by him as one. By the time he retreated to Dvaraka in the face of the superior forces of Jarasandha, he had achieved his goal. The entire Yadava clan, the Bhojas, Vrishnis, Andhakas, Shinis, Kukuras, Sattvatas etc. swore by him and looked up to him as their natural leader in all matters of importance. Every future incident reconfirmed his position as leader and the bond of the Yadava brotherhood went from strength to strength. The path was not free of obstacles. Nevertheless, he achieved what he wanted-unity among the Yadavas. He did not succeed in bringing the southern Yadavas immediately into his fold. But by this time, the Mathura-Dvaraka Yadavas had already emerged as a major force, feared even by Hastinapura.

Having united the Yadavas, Krishna found it necessary to consolidate. Though powerful, the Yadavas were politically isolated and had powerful enemies. So, he needed political alliances, which would help him in containing or removing the enemies. His main adversary was Jarasandha and his allies. He realised that only after destroying him, could he turn his attention to Hastinapura, his final goal. That Duryodhana joined Jarasandha in the siege of Mathura, must have weighed with him considerably in his antipathy towards the Pauravas. But, first of all, the alliances.

Krishna saw that to destroy Jarasandha, he had to use the Pauravas, the other most powerful nation. For that, he needed to make an inroad into them. Luck was with him. He found the Pandavas. There were three distinct reasons why the Pandavas must be chosen as allies. First, they were individually extremely gifted, not only in the art of warfare but also in the qualities of head and heart. Most important, they too were isolated, without much political support and constantly persecuted and hunted by their kinsmen of Hastinapura. They needed help. Secondly, they were matrimonially linked with the Panchalas, the biggest hardcore enemies of Hastinapura. That too suited him very well. Thirdly, the Pandavas were his natural allies, being his first cousins, through their mother Kunti who was the sister of his father Vasudeva. Providence was therefore with him. He needed the Pandava-Panchala alliance and they needed the power of the Yadavas at their back. He therefore extended the hand of friendship which was gratefully accepted. He chose for his friend Arjuna, who he saw was the most versatile, balanced and capable among the five. Arjuna was certainly the kingpin in this alliance and he needed cultivating. He did it with such consummate grace and finesse that Arjuna could nor even think without Krishna and was always willing to do what was pleasing to Krishna. So, what began as a political need ended up as a deep emotional involvement for both. This attitude of Arjuna had far-reaching effects. It was not for nothing that Arjuna’s grandson inherited the empire. Krishna ensured it with a Yadava angle to it. It was a dubious Paurava inheritance with a strong Yadava flavor. He conceived a plan the moment he saw the Pandavas and nurtured it fondly, always progressing steadily towards the fructification of his ultimate plan.

Krishna used another traditional diplomatic instrument, matrimony, for securing political alliances. His grandfather and father used it, with only limited success. Pritha, Vasudeva’s sister, was married to Pandu who did not live long. So this alliance did not produce the expected results, except, that it provided Krishna with the invincible Pandavas and, through them, with a strong foothold in the Hastinapura sphere of influence. Two other sisters were married to the Yadavas of Chedi and Karusha. These were not successful at all as, in spite of these marriages, Chedi and Karusha remained firmly in alliance with Jarasandha. However, there was another powerful Yadava kingdom in the neighborhood of Chedi. which also was an ally of Jarasandha. This was Bhishmaka of Vidarbha and his son Rukmi. Bhishmaka was also very friendly with Sishupala of Chedi and had planned to marry Rukmini, his daughter, with Sishupala. Krishna wanted to rectify the situation and win the powerful Yadavas of Vidarbha to his side. He abducted and married Rukmini hoping that this marriage would unite the Vidarbhas with the Mathura-Dvaraka Yadavas, but this effort failed. Vidarbha was incensed with the abduction and was driven more firmly to Jarasandha. This also enraged Sishpuala of Chedi, who was already a sworn enemy of his cousin Krishna. In the end of course, we find that Rukmi came to join the Pandava forces on the eve of the war, with an expressed desire ‘to do something pleasing to Krishna.’ But how much of it was political expediency (since the Krishna of now was a much more powerful person than the Krishna of yore) and how much of it was his genuine feeling for a brother-in-law, is a matter of conjecture. But it did not matter any more. Neither Krishna, nor the Pandavas needed him.

When Krishna realised that he would have to base his activities solely on this Pandava-Panchala alliance he strove to make it more lasting and powerful. He wanted to bring the Yadavas too into this alliance. And this he decided would be done through Arjuna. He arranged the marriage of his sister Subhadra with Arjuna which was most unusual, as Arjuna and Subhadra were first cousins. Unusual but politically very useful. Also this marriage brought the Yadavas into the Panchala-Pandava alliance firmly. This marriage therefore he nurtured fondly. He brought up Abhimanyu and trained him to be the equal of Arjuna and himself. Such allegiance was not paid to the sons of Draupadi, which is significant. The new alliance becomes powerful but not enough. Now Abhimanyu had to be married. Opportunity presented itself in the form of the Matsya Princess, Uttara. Why did Arjuna prefer Abhimanyu and not any of the sons of Draupadi who were equally available and marriageable? Perhaps, Krishna’s farsightedness and well-laid plains bore fruit now. Arjuna was never in love with Draupadi. His beloved was Subhadra whom he married out of love. So, it was not surprising that he considered Subhadra and Abhimanyu to be his family. Draupadi after all was not his alone. She was more of a political entity, a matter of convenience. Also, Abhimanyu was the rephew of Krishna, Arjuna’s friend, philosopher and guide. Arjuna would always do what pleased Krishna. Who else could he choose except Abhimanyu? This marriage further confirmed the Yadava claim on Hastinapura’s throne, because Abhimanyu’s son Parikshit would be the king of Hastinapura later. And Abhimanyu or Parikshit were more Yadavas than Pauravas. Abhimanyu’s mother and grandmother were Yadavas. His father was not strictly a Paurava. Both Arjuna and Pandu did not have any Paurava blood in them. Both were ‘kshetrajna’ sons of their family.

The political outcome of this marriage was an invincible alliance of Paurava-Panchala-Yadava-Matsya which the marriage of one of Draupadi’s sons could not have brought about effectively. It brought the Yadavas into direct contact with the Matsyas. This axis very conclusively set up a balance of power which more or less neutralised the immense authority of the Hastinapura monolith.

In all this power game, what is bewildering is the marriage between Krishna’s son Samba and Duryodhana’s daughter Lakshmana. It is true that Krishna did not know anything about it. It was Balarama who went and rescued Samba and Lakshmana from the clutches of Duryodhana who had forcibly detained Samba for his misadventure of marrying aud trying to abduct Lakshmana. This is intriguing. Did the marriage please Krishna? Or was he enraged? Did it add to his negative feelings towards Duryodhana for imprisoning his son or was he happy on being presented with another, possibly useful, alliance? However, this marriage did not in any way affect the course of history, nor does it throw any light on the character of Krishna.

All through these happenings on the matrimonial front, Krishna kept himself busy, with eliminating those malignant powers that were irretrievably inimical towards the Yadava cause. No amount of diplomacy would have helped. Some he removed himself, others he tackled with the help of the Pandavas. He systematically destroyed Kamsa, Kalyavana, Hamsa Dimbaka and Sauvaraj Salva. Then he saw that unless Jarasandha was eliminated, the Magadha confederacy, the most powerful one at the time, could not be broken. He also knew that there was no power in the country that could take on the Magadha confederacy in direct conflict. Nor could he handle it alone. So he took recourse to stratagem and, with the help of Bhima and Arjuna, slew Jarasandha. Then he went on to destroy Sishupala of Chedi, Paundraka Vasudeva of Pundravardhana and other minor adversaries to clear the stage for the final holocaust which he knew must come. The Magadha confederacy was completely defused. He had realized that if all these people came to help the Kauravas, nothing could save the Pandava alliance.

An interesting gambit, which was often employed by Krishna, also bought him considerable allegiance from the erstwhile enemies. He never usurped the territory of the vanquished. He established their surviving relatives or the throne and returned the territory. He made Ugrasena, father of Kamsa, the king of the Yadavas. He gave the empire of Jarasandha to his son Sahadeva. He made Dhrislaketu the king of Chedi after his father Sishupala was slain. These kings gave their loyalty to Krishna out of gratitude for his magnanimity. Consequently we find them at the side of the Pandavas during the War. Kalhana tells us that Krishna placed one of the female relatives of Gonanda on the throne of Kashmir. He was a kingmaker and not a king. And in the history of mankind we have seen time and again that it is the kingmaker who wields real power, never the king thus made.

Therefore, Krishna succeeds in all his plans. He unites the Yadavas. He removes the enemies. He makes the Yadavas very powerful through various alliances. He uses marriage effectively for the purpose. And for the final battle, he sets up a powerful axis of Yadava-Panchala-Pandava-Matsya aided by his grateful proteges against the Hastinapura allies. All the time, the Pandava interest is never lost sight of. When suddenly, at the end of the War, Abhimanyu’s unborn son was also killed (which eventuality even he had not foreseen), he resurrected him so that he could become king. Why did he do it? Why not one of Draupadi’s sons who also had died on the same night? The tragedy of Draupadi was that nobody really cared for her. She was a queen, she was a wife and she was a woman with very feminine emotions and frailities. This Draupadi was always ignored. She was a piece on the political chess-board of the time, to be used at convenience. Arjuna preferred Abhimanyu to her sons, because he was Subhadra’s son and Krishna’s nephew. Krishna preferred him because he was Subhadra’s son and more or less a Yadava. For the same reason, he resurrected Parikshit. Draupadi’s sons were not Yadava relations and for Krishna it was necessary that a Yadava relation survived to rule Hastinapura. It was a political necessity for him. He was all for Draupadi. But whenever there was any clash of interest between Draupadi and Subhadra, he invariably chose Subhadra’s cause, because the Yadava interest coincided with that of Subhadra, not Draupadi. For Krishna, blood was always thicker than water. Therefore, it was Subhadra and her progeny who must survive to carry on a Yadava history (even if it is in the guise of a Paurava history).

The blood and water theory seems to be apposite when we consider an aspect of the Mahabharata which is not much talked about. Why did the Yadavas refrain from joining the War? Why did no one question them on this? Again it was Krishna. Krishna offered only himself without arms, and an akshauhini of Narayani Sena (probably mercenaries) who were as powerful as he was (mere sales talk, no doubt, but enough to fool Duryodhana). That is all. Satyaki joined the Pandavas out of friendship with Arjuna and Hardikya Kritavarma joined the Kauravas, out of an old enmity with Krishna, And, most surprisingly, at the end of the War when everyone died, the only survivors, besides the Pandavas, were Satyaki and Kritavarma. Krishna, one feels, prevented the Yadavas from annihilation by keeping them away. Out of all the nations, only the Yadavas survived to be supreme and to be the rulers of the earth. It was an unparalleled master-stroke which may not be a appreciated but was in total consonance with his policy of establishing a Yadava hegemony.

At the end of it all when all the dust settles down on Kurukshetra, when the earth has drained the blood of eighteen akshauhinis and is ready once again to pick up the reins of life after bathing in death, we find the Yadavas at the helm of affairs. And a little later, we find Subhadra’s grandson Parikshit on the throne of Hastinapura and Krishna’s grandson, Vajra, on the throne of Indraprastha that was founded by the Pandavas on the site of Yayati’s ancient capital. The wheel had indeed turned full circle. Yayati created a rift between Puru and Yadu by throwing out Yadu. His successor, after 26 generations, brought the Yadavas back into power in the land of their ancestors. If one is a little more gracious to Krishna, one can of course say that he brought the progeny of two brothers, who had fallen out, once again together in Parikshit who was both a Paurava as well as a Yadava.

Power brings decadence and decadence destroys a race. The Yadavas were no exception to this rule. They destroyed each other before the grieving eyes of Krishna. He had made them powerful, saved them from the war and brought them so far. But he could not save them from themselves. This was the peculiar tragedy of Krishna. Nevertheless, he succeeded in placing the Paurava-Yadava Parikshit on the throne of Hastinapura. This is where he won.

Bankim perhaps did not get an opportunity to place this aspect of Krishna-Charitraon record. He did not give Krishna the credit for being a supreme leader of men, a diplomat of indisputable caliber and unrivalled political far sight. Bankim failed to place Krishna in the political geography of the country and to underline his political acumen in bringing about a completely new political set’up. Bankim missed this master statesman, but then, as he himself has said, Krishna is an ideal person in every field of human activity. Therefore, we have no difficulty in including Krishna’s political excellence within Bankim’s comprehensive definition.

via Bankim’s Krishna-Charita by Maj. Gen. Shekhar Sen.

In the rest of the world, religion was politicized and politics underwent religiofication. But India with the tradition of भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra stopped at deification of political figures.

Outside India, even Gautama Buddha, a huge political reformer, in post-Saraswati India, was deified – while in India he was revered as a teacher.

Piercing this mist of religiofication, will be the biggest challenge that Indians face.

1857 – A Failed ‘Mutiny’?

Posted in British Raj, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on April 19, 2012

Getting into the details of the 1857 War reveals some interesting sidelights.

An elephant gun-battery in 1857, a wood engraving from the 1860's. These elephant guns were crucial to both sides.

An elephant gun-battery in 1857, a wood engraving from the 1860's. These elephant guns were crucial to both sides.

Guns vs bow & arrows?

When it comes to the 1857 War, popular impression is that Indian ‘mutineers’ fought with swords, bows and arrows, and the British had guns and cannons.

For at least 400 years before 1857, India was the largest producer of gunpowder elements – specially crucial nitrates. India was the largest producer of nitrates (main component in gunpowder) – and availability of explosive material was not the problem in the 1857 War.

Not for Indians. Not for the British, too.

The Indian Court at the Great Exhibition, Hyde Park, London 1851.  |  Painting by Joseph Nash  |  Click for image.

The Indian Court at the Great Exhibition, Hyde Park, London 1851. | Painting by Joseph Nash | Click for image.

Explosive power

Since nitrate-production was concentrated in the greater Bengal area (Bihar, West Bengal, East Bengal), the purbiyas (the Easterners) were also the explosive experts. Malwa’s rulers recruited  Purbias from Bengal and Bihar for their expertise in gunpowder. The British initially valued and later (after 1857) feared the Purbias for the same reason.

The purbiyas (the Easterners) were the main body in in Malwa and Mughal armies, in Sher Shah Suri and Ranjit Singh’s armies – and in the army of East India Company also. In fact, the main component of anti-British Indian soldiers in the 1857 War were the Bengal soldiers, the purbiyas (the Easterners).

Indian nitrate production was in the hands of the private sector – and the whole world bought its gunpowder from India. Indian rulers too, had to buy nitrates at near global prices.

But buying nitrates, hiring soldiers, buying guns was an expensive affair.

Note the damage to the structure. Soldiers of the 1st Madras Fusiliers seated amongst the remains of the British entrenchment de fences to barracks at Cawnpore which General Sir Hugh Massy Wheeler surrendered in June 1857.  |  Image by Felice Beato; source & courtesy - iwm.org.uk  |  Click for image.

Note the damage to the structure. Soldiers of the 1st Madras Fusiliers seated amongst the remains of the British entrenchment de fences to barracks at Cawnpore which General Sir Hugh Massy Wheeler surrendered in June 1857. | Image by Felice Beato; source & courtesy - iwm.org.uk | Click for image.

Slavery, narcotics & piracy

Indian rulers ‘hampered’ by Indian dharma systems had limited access to funds. Taxation across India was set at 16.67%. Only in dire emergencies could the king impose the chauth rate (25%) of taxation – used by Shivaji.

The British East India Company could easily buy nitrates – funded by the riches of slave-trade, sugar production (using slave-labour), piracy, narcotics trade (opium to China).

Capital formation in Britain also pushed the Industrial Revolution – fully underway in Britain.

A cargo of seventy elephants from Burma during the 1857 Mutiny; |  Image date: 1858–61; Albumen silver print; from Gilman Collection, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art  |  Click for image.

A cargo of seventy elephants from Burma during the 1857 Mutiny; |m Iage date: 1858–61; Albumen silver print; from Gilman Collection, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Click for image.

By 1857, production of armaments in Britain was the highest in the world. The Grand Expo of 1851 announced Britain’s industrial might and leadership to the world.

By 1857, steam engines were driving production in England. Indian armament industry was powered by manual power – instead of steam power in Britain.

But was industrial might the deciding factor?

Siege guns, 18-pounders were much used by the British to bombard Indian soldiers.

These guns drawn by elephants made a difference. But more than guns were elephants themselves.

Contemporary British accounts record capture of elephants from Indian armies.  At least at one time, the British resorted to ship elephants from Burma to supplement their armies in India.

But what was the main achievement of the 1857 War? Western views is

Kashmiri Gate after the pounding by cannons during the 1857 War  |  Albumen print by Felice Beato; source & courtesy - bbc.co.uk  |  Click for image.

Kashmiri Gate after the pounding by cannons during the 1857 War | Albumen print by Felice Beato; source & courtesy - bbc.co.uk | Click for image.

Indian Mutiny was a revolution which failed.

Except that it destroyed the East India Company as a quasi-government once and for all: when executive administration and military authority were restored in the Raj, both were firmly in the hands of the British Crown. And except that never again, in the 90 years which remained before Indian independence, would Britons stand so confidently astride the subcontinent. Its balance had been fatally shaken at Meerut and from that day onwards it was a matter of when, not if, the Raj would fall.

The story which began in 1857 has never quite been resolved. Not all of its million sub-plots found so neat an ending as the tale of Margaret Wheeler. More representative by far is the legend of Wheeler’s nemesis, Nana Sahib, the enigmatic rebel leader who oversaw the massacres at Cawnpore. Despite being the most wanted man in the British Empire, Nana Sahib was never captured. Long after his probable death, sightings continued to be reported. The last came in Gujarat in 1895 when a young British officer detained an elderly sadhu and excitedly cabled Calcutta: “Have arrested the Nana Sahib. Wire instructions.”

Calcutta’s reply, subtly redolent of exasperation at the power of myth and mirage under the Indian sun, read: “Release at once”. (via Bounty from a mutiny – Books – Scotsman.com).

If … But … Why …

If the 1857 War was such a failure, why was the East India disbanded? Why did Christian missionary program start taking a back seat? Added to this, after the 1857 War in India, Christian proselytism too had to take a back seat.

Victoria Regina’s Colonial India Government printed leaflets in tens and thousands to proclaim that the British Crown had no intentions to dictate faith to its Indian ‘subjects’. The 1857 War also forced the British to change the war. Instead of military means, the British mounted an intellectual war on India. Euro-centric historians to change the entire drift of world history.

Less than ninety years after the 1857 War, in February 1946 Indian sepoys raised the Indian flag of independence – again.

This time around the British decided to walk.


Death of Indian Shipbuilding

Posted in British Raj, European History, Gold Reserves, History, India by Anuraag Sanghi on April 14, 2012

Bengal, which Mughal rulers described as paradise on earth, became a hell on earth during the British Raj. Right from the Famine of 1765 to the 1943 Great Bengal Famine which killed at least 3-4 million..

Note: Read 'f' as 's', where needed.  |  From: The ... report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Affairs of the East India Company (Google eBook) | Published in Great Britain | Author: Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India Company, East India Company (London) | Publisher: Cambray | Year: 1810

Note: Read 'f' as 's', where needed. | From: The ... report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Affairs of the East India Company (Google eBook) | Published in Great Britain | Author: Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India Company, East India Company (London) | Publisher: Cambray | Year: 1810

Gunpowder capital of the world

After the Battle of Plassey (1757), the British gained control of Bengal – which was India’s major industrial centre. For the British, the most valuable product from Bengal was saltpetre – nitrate, the essential ingredient in gunpowder.

In 1757, right up to WWI, India manufactured more nitrate (essential for gunpowder manufacture) than the rest of the world put together. An intricate technology, no other country in the world manufactured gunpowder products, as much as India, of such good quality. For the British, Bengal’s gunpowder production was the passport to a world empire.

Gunpowder apart, Bengal was a major textile centre, famous for shipbuilding and a significant agricultural centre.

Lockstep in Bengal

Between 1757 and the Battle of Buxar (1765), the British moved step at a time, to tighten their grip on Bengal.

One of the first steps was to create a famine. After Buxar for the next two hundred years, the Bengal region started witnessing famines that continued upto 1943, when some 30-40 lakhs Indians died in Bengal (3-4 million).

Bengal which was intricately connected by thousands of kilometres of waterways and canals, had lakhs of boats plying up and down the region. In 1788 came the order that killed shipbuilding in Bengal. Today it may seem fantastic, but more than 20 different types of boats, were used. Each of them built for different use.

Chronicles of India

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, wonder-stuck Europeans spent years making etching and woodcuts, that are today the main surviving record of that age gone by.

The Mughals built the world’s largest treasury of the world – and even after that, India was a major economic power. After the end of Mughal power in 1857, in the next 100 years of the British Raj, we see India become a starving, naked and homeless population.

And in the last 65 years, India has again become the fourth largest economy in the world.

70 years later, RBI remains true to its DNA

Posted in Business, Current Affairs, Environment, European History, Gold Reserves, History, Media by Anuraag Sanghi on January 22, 2009
An bankrupt West is a bad economic model to follow. RBI in the last 3-5 years has shown some independence in policy matters - finally. (Cartoon courtesy - bhra.files.wordpress.com). Click for larger image.

An bankrupt West is a bad economic model to follow. RBI in the last 3-5 years has shown some independence in policy matters - finally. (Cartoon courtesy - bhra.files.wordpress.com). Click for larger image.

there is a curious aspect to the Indian economic System (defined as commentators, policy makers, and academicians). The System systematically thinks in a skewed fashion, and unlike any other System in the world. In particular, it is trigger happy to bring the economy to a screeching halt by raising interest rates, but asleep at the wheel when the economy is in desperate shape — e.g. confidence at historic lows, industrial growth at zero, and exports diving over a cliff. (via Surjit Bhalla: Lazy banking at its finest).

It is not so curious Mr.Bhalla. You only have to look at the history of RBI formation and its objective. Fact is RBI has not outgrown its colonial DNA.

April Fool Joke – The RBI

On April 1st, 1934, while the ‘Squeeze India’ campaign was under execution – and being choreographed by Montagu Norman, Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and Lord Willingdon, RBI, India’s banking authority was set up. From that April Fool’s day till now, RBI character has not changed. It remains isolated, out of touch with the India – and looks at India through colonial viewing glasses.

First things, first …

RBI and the Colonial India Government initiated many reports on the ‘condition’ of the Indian economy. Based on these reports, they passed many of the laws restricting money lending activities. These reports – Central Banking Enquiry Committee (CBEC) report (1929) and its associated Provincial Banking Enquiry Committee reports (of Assam, Bombay, Burma, Ceylon, Central Provinces, Bengal, Punjab, et al) of which the Madras Provincial Banking Enquiry Committee (MPBEC) report is cited by lazy academics and out-moded bureaucratsas authoritative – even in post-colonial era.

Western economies have been hiding their economic stagnation for the last 10 years by handing out loans to voters, industry and banks. For how long can this system work? Cartoon by Michael Ramirez. Click for larger image.

Western economies have been hiding their economic stagnation for the last 10 years by handing out loans to voters, industry and banks. For how long can this system work? Cartoon by Michael Ramirez. Click for larger image.

Based on these reports co-ordinated by the RBI, Debt Conciliation Acts were passed between 1933 and 1936 by the governments of Assam, Bengal, Central Provinces and Berar, Madras and Punjab; the Punjab Regulation of Accounts Act (1930) and the Debtors Protection Acts of 1935 and other such burdensome laws buried the money lender in mountains of paperwork and licenses. These laws required money lenders to comply with extensive and prolonged compulsory licensing and registration – and extensive recording of transactions and accounts.

What these laws achieved was what was desired – a license for police and other ‘inspectors’ to start an extortion racket from money lenders (these days called corruption). A bureaucrat from colonial Punjab, Malcolm Darling (1925) shedding crocodile tears stated “the Indian peasant is born in debt, lives in debt and dies in debt” became a by line for tarring the money lender – while the cause was extractive, colonial revenue practices.

Options foreclosed

While the world was reeling under a crisis of the Great Depression, these restrictions on money lending foreclosed the liquidity option for the Indian peasant, which would have averted the gold outflow from India and the impoverishment of the Indian peasant. With this legalized persecution, money lenders’ activities were curtailed all over India.

RBI joined in this hounding of the money lenders – which continues to this day. The Bengal Burma link of the ages was broken. Chettiar money lenders were thrown out of Burma. From being a granary of Asia, Burma started declining – and there was no rice for exports. Result – The Bengal Famine of 1943. Tally – 40-50 lakh deaths. Similarly, the role of Chettiars in Singapore was wiped clean.

Subhash Chandra Bose's diplomatic initiatives left the British War efforts nervous and anxious. (Image sources - hindustantimes.com). Click for source image.

Subhash Chandra Bose's diplomatic initiatives left the British War efforts nervous and anxious. (Image sources - hindustantimes.com). Click for source image.

After the fall of Singapore, and the rapid Japanese advance, with Subhash Chandra Bose in the vicinity, a revolt by Bengal would have had catastrophic effect on the colonial administration. Howard Fast, in his novel ‘The Pledge’ believes that the Bengal Famine was deliberate creation – possibly to weaken the local population.

Elephants in the room

Firstly, the answer to your curiosity cannot come from the West. And since, the Indian English press (especially), depends on the West for cues, they miss out some vital elements. For instance, how the Indian economy was used to meet Britain’s Post WW1 liabilities. To ‘dampen’ gold demand for India, the Indian rupee was put on fixed overvalued rate vis-a-vis the sterling.

Indian exports crashed, imports ballooned. Indian accounts would be settled at ‘official’ silver prices, with inflated silver released by the US under the Pittman Act. Gold prices were deflated – and Indians would therefore have to pay more in gold. Thus with with a combination of inflated silver price, deflated gold price, high interest rates and an overvalued Indian rupee, the Indian economy was strangled. Few Western writers or books identify this – unwittingly, or deliberately.

RBI was a pawn in this game – and it remains true to its DNA.

India funded the post WW1 recovery

The mechanics and the development of this plan are laid out in a better book, John Bullion’s Empire by By G. Balachandran. This book traces how much of India’s poverty was a result of economic policies between the two World Wars co-ordinated by these four central bankers.

On October 27th, 1931, the Ramsey Macdonald led “National” Government (Conservatives and Liberals coalition, fearful of the rising Labour Party) in Britain won a huge majority of 554 MPs of 615. The economic crisis of September 1931 (misnamed as the Indian Currency Crisis) was a result of this economic policy which reduced Indian economic activity – resulting in bankruptcy of the Colonial India Government.

Parallel Great Depression era problems in the US, the Weimar Republic problems – and other issues pushed this ‘National’ government to ram through a series of measures (page 130-131) that inflated silver prices, depressed gold prices and raised interest rates in India. The Indian rupee was pegged at a high exchange rate vis-a-vis the sterling. Indian exports crashed. To ensure that Indian farmers had no options, Indian money lenders were regulated and licensed into paralysis. Further the Lees Mody Pact, gave few options to the Indian producers.

Indians were paid, with inflated and abundant silver stock, instead of gold. This silver was the same silver released by the Pittman Act. The silver buffer solution to the gold drain to India was seen as the “only buffer to protect Western gold reserves against the Indian drain (was) a silver buffer.” Of course, later the British Raj decided to settle Indian debts with promissory notes – and not even silver. It was this Indian ‘sacrifice’ which enabled the recovery of the West.

The yawning trench between talk and walk makes Western economiuc theory suspect.

The yawning trench between talk and walk makes Western economiuc theory suspect.

Crash in silver prices

New mines and increased silver production saw a crash in silver prices. US silver coinage was being depreciated due to increasing supplies of silver. On the other side, Britain had a large debt due to WW1. Britain and America stuck a deal at the cost of the Indian subjects of the British Raj. The US passed the Pittman Act which mandated silver sales at more than a dollar per ounce – double the 50c per ounce prevailing price of silver. Britain agreed to settle all Indian debts with silver. Gold prices were deflated. Interest rates in India were increased. Restrictions on gold imports on were placed and gold demand in India was ‘normalized.’

Impoverishment of India

With crashing exports and increased imports, the Indian citizenry had no option but to pay for all essentials and taxes with gold. As a quid pro quo, for this silver for gold scam, the US lent gold to Britain in 1926, which allowed Britain to revert back to the pre-War old standard.

Done over the protests by Gandhiji, trade bodies and merchants and threats of resignation by the Viceroy and his Executive Council , the resulting ‘money famine’ (page 155) had the Lord Willingdon ecstatically say ‘Indians are disgorging gold’ (page 156). Neville Chamberlain pitched in with his classic statement “The astonishing gold mine that we have discovered in India’s hordes has put us in clover.”

Looking back, it was clear that this achieved nothing but the impoverishment of India. In 1948, Montagu Norman had to admit that with these maneuvers “We achieved absolutely nothing, except that we collected a lot of money from a lot of poor devils and gave it to the four winds.”

The RBI was a vital element of this plan.

Ceterus paribus …

Today, in similar situation, the RBI, a colonial era body, continues with these colonial anti-Indian policies. They keep ever-greening and recycle colonial policies. Old laws with new labels and different wordings are made – with the same intent. Kill the money lender. While all this was happening, Indian agriculture and the peasant suffers.

The tragedy is that RBI is not alone. The IAS (a successor to the ICS) and the Planning Commission are the other two. Compare that with the brilliant track record of modern Indian regulators and organizations like the SEBI, TRAI.

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