Our History in Our Traditions: A Reminder
The arrival of the Europeans in the Indian Sub-continent, the British in particular, also heralded new vistas: to know and explore the region. Already they had heard of people with only one eye, with a dog’s head, and without a head. There could be flying snakes, flying lions and other strange animals, birds, insects, etc. Also, there could be men and women with huge leaf-like legs, who used these as umbrellas, and so on!
A conscious effort to study the literature and the people, soon yielded the important result that although the Sanskrit language contained nothing that could be called ‘history’, there were books describing events of true historical importance and these were presented in the form of drama etc. Several lost manuscripts, scriptures, and writings on stones were discovered. Excavations lead to a discovery of evidence of lost civilizations.
What is known today is mainly through the writings of such travellers as Hiuen Tsang, Fahyan Megasthanes, Al Biruni and others. The Greeks providing an insight into the reign of Chandragupt. However, clinching evidence in support of what existed earlier, before Buddha for example, continues to be elusive. Astronomy, too, has been invoked to date events in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, but with conflicting results.
Taking a cue from the fact that we still continue to observe mythology based festivals and traditions, supported additionally by the modern-day TV serials, it is felt that a close study of these festivals and traditions, but with a modern perspective and the help of things like of computer software, may lead to new discoveries. Consider the description of the skies at the birth of Sri Rama, the demise of Bhishm etc. If Sri Rama was exiled for exactly 14 years around Rama Navami day (i.e. around his birthday), and if the citizens of Ayodhya celebrated his return with Deepawali, why should today there be a difference of around five and a half months between the two festivals? We do not know when and how the lunar, solar and lunisolar calendars were respectively introduced into India and by whom. The emergence of different religious sects at different times often clearly marked epochal changes in society. Can we reliably date this societal evolution through a study of religious practices?
These topics, and others, are discussed in the present study.
I am indebted to Professor Michel Danino for providing me with access to a wealth of ancient literature. Useful discussions with Professors Balachandra Rao, B.S. Shylaja and Sri Lal Mani Tewari are gratefully acknowledged. A deep sense of gratitude for the gratuitous stay in Pune during the conference is recorded here for the organizers, and also to the editors who helped improve this paper significantly.
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