INDOLOGY V/S. INDIC TRADITION
-David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)
The ongoing academic and media battle over the Aryan invasion
and the Vedic-Harappan convergence is part of the de-colonization
Record of failure:The sad fact is that after nearly two hundred
years, Western Indology has still failed to understand
India, her culture, her soul or her history. It has progressed
little beyond Eurocentric and missionary stereotypes,
only adding Marxist.
Freudian and other modern stereotypes to these, naively
believing that these Western ideologies are somehow dramatically
enlightening to India and its ancient and profound spiritual
culture, when they are usually irrelevant or inferior and
have failed in the West. Meanwhile it has discovered little
more in the vast treasures of Vedic culture than any primitive
Western Indology does not understand the philosophy of
India, its emphasis on dharma and karma, liberation and
enlightenment, or its great traditions of yoga and meditation.
It does not acknowledge the value of its rishi/yogi culture
and its Vedic origin.
Nor does it recognize any such higher yogic spiritual tradition as behind
any ancient civilizations or behind humanity as a whole. From its perspective,
Indian spirituality is a self-serving fantasy hiding what is unscientific,
inhumane or archaic.
Yet even more sadly Western Indology does not want to recognize that India
as a unique civilization really exists. It fails to see any real identity
to Indic civilization prior to British rule or any real continuity to
it from ancient times. Rather it views India as a melting pot of invading
cultures with no overriding political or cultural background or unity.
It was in fact stated by Marx that India has no
history, and what is called history is the record of successive
intruders.This is the position still taken by Western
Indologists and their counterparts in India. They fiercely
resist any suggestion of an indigenous civilization in
Western thought reads the type of political and psychological
motives into Indic schools of thought that are the norm
for its own history. It tries to understand the Indic
tradition according to Marxism, Freud, Deconstructionism
or whatever the latest trend in Western thought happens
to be, as if these characteristic preoccupations of the
outward looking Western mind could unlock the keys to
a very different spiritual and yogic culture.
In fact, they usually tell us more about the Western mind than anything
really of India's traditional culture. In short, the West has never really
questioned the appropriateness of its means of knowledge for understanding
Not surprisingly, Indic civilization remains a mystery for it and the
West does not even suspect the riches of the higher mind that it contains.
Western intellectual culture is generally quite critical of the Indic
tradition and rejects most of it as unscientific or erroneous. It styles
Indic thought as mystical, irrational, superstitious or even absurd.
The main approach of Western Indology has been one of negationism,
denial and denigration. This failure of Western Indology
is nowhere more evident as in its treatment of the Vedas.
The monumental literature of the Vedas the largest
of the ancient world and given a reverence throughout
India throughout its history is reduced to the record
of invading hordes or pastoral nomads that should have
left no real literary record anyway.
Vedic literature is not examined in depth but simply explained away by
such negationist theories, as something of no consequence that need not
be taken seriously.
of Vedic Literature-
According to Western Indology the Vedic is a literature
that should not exist, that if it does exist is primitive,
distorted or deceptive. Whatever is sophisticated in the
Vedas that Indologists might be able to perceive becomes
an interpolation or a cynical borrowing from indigenous
people that the Vedic people supplanted and denigrated.
Western Indology first viewed Vedic literature as the
record of invading/militant Aryan hordes from Central
Asia as they destroyed the sophisticated Dravidian urban
culture of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Now that the Harappan
culture has been shown to have not ended in violence but
in geological and river changes, they haven't given up
their old views but simply modified them, without even
acknowledging their previous distortions.
They now see the Vedas as the record of a pastoral culture
that gradually infiltrated its way into India after 1500
BCE and, in some unknown way, subverted the language and
literature of the land, though no real evidence
for this or record of it has remained.
Such views do not explain the Vedic literature, its extent, sophistication
or continuity. Ruthless hordes would not produce such a literature or
be able to continue it through the centuries. Pastoral infiltrators would
be less able to do so.
No subcontinent would carry on such a vast literature as a great spiritual
legacy that represents small groups of intrusive peoples that had no real
civilization! To carry on such a vast literature, particularly one that
requires very elaborate and expensive rituals, would require a royal patronage
and from an early period.
There is a similar negationism about Harappan civilization, which is also
left in the dark. Harappan civilization is viewed as a mysterious civilization
that came and went leaving no real trace in the later culture.
That it was the largest and most sophisticated
urban culture of the ancient world at the time is similarly
downplayed. Rather the impression is given that it was
only a sidelight to much smaller Near- Eastern cultures
that were the real center of civilization at the time.
Its obvious connections to Vedic thought found in artifacts
and symbols like the swastika, the 'Om', and others are
stubbornly ignored. In making the Harappan a so-called
Dravidian culture, the fact that there is no archaeological
record, history or trace of a movement of Dravidians south
to confirm this change is similarly ignored.
Vedic literature does represent the Indic tradition
from ancient times. It is the most ancient literature
that India, as a culture, chose to perpetuate and which
nearly all later literatures in the country refer to,
including non-Vedic groups or thinkers. We cannot ignore
Vedic literature or place it in Central Asia.
We cannot pretend that it has no connection or origin
in India by ignoring references to Indian geography, flora
and fauna. Even today, many great Indian thinkers draw
inspiration from the Rigveda itself, including such great
figures as Sri Aurobindo, who established an entire new
modern school of Vedic interpretation.
Harappan urban culture similarly represents the urban aspect
of Indic civilization since ancient time. We cannot pretend
that it had no literature and no continuity of its culture
and peoples in the region.
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| Nor can we pretend that it could
have been entirely forgotten by the existent Vedic literature.
The literature record and urban ruins, though very different
sources of information that will give diffeent points of
view, cannot be kept apart. The continuity of Indic civilization
and its literature cannot be negated away. We cannot place
the ancient literature of India outside of India and understand
the development of Indian civilization.
The other aspect of Western Indology that is yet more
questionable is its holding on to wrong views even after
they have been disproved. To date the most common impression
people have about ancient India from textbooks and depictions
all over the world is Wheeler's massacre at Mohenjodaro
and the image of the invading Aryan hordes like the later
Huns and Mongols.
(See for example the entry on Mohenjo Daro in the Encyclopedia
Britannica.) Though Western Indologists, if pressed, acknowledge
that this view is wrong and that Harappan culture declined
and fell without such outside invasion and violence, they
have done nothing significant to change these distortions.
They seem to absolve themselves of any responsibility for them or the
political and social problems that their misinterpretations have caused
or aggravated. However, they are outraged if Hindus should question their
record or their motives.
Wholesale Negation of Indic Civilization.This negationism of
Indian civilization is not just a matter of the Vedas
or the Aryan Invasion Theory. That merely sets the precedent
for a negation of India's civilization as a whole. The
same predictable pattern repeats itself in other areas
It is not only ancient India but all aspects of Indic civilization that
are questionable. The logic is simple. Everything in Indian civilization
came from migrants from the West (like the Aryan Invasion), borrowings
from the West (like from the Greeks in ancient times), is inferior to
that of the West (Hindu monism being at best a crude approach to Christian
monotheism), or is simply not of any value at all (fantasy, mythology,
error or superstition).
Whatever limited indigenous tradition there might have been is reduced
to some mysterious Harappan, Dravidian culture that was erased by the
intrusive Aryans or taken over by them without giving any credit in the
process. This means that Indian civilization if it is indigenous to any
significant degree remains fraudulent!
records of a hundred kings before the time of Krishna
are dismissed as fanciful, even though names for one major
dynasty, that of the Ikshvakus, and years of reign
going back well over a thousand years prior to the Buddha,
are recorded. For reconstructing any authentic history
of India, Western Indologists rely on happenstance Greek,
Chinese and Islamic travelers (who had their own religious
and political motives), refusing to accept anything from
That such visitors are often quite unreliable is ignored.
Ancient travelers were prone to exaggerations and misinterpretations,
like the Spanish in later times when they first visited
America. Even Greek records are selectively used or distorted,
like failing to mention Megasthenes's statement
that Indians possessed records that went back hundreds
of generations before Alexander.
to the culture of ancient India, its negation by Western
Indologists is almost total. For sculpture, which was particularly important
for the iconic temple worship in India, we are also told that what was
of any value in it came from the Greeks after the time of Alexander. That
Harappan statues are quite sophisticated and realistic and could represent
indigenous influences is ignored. Later sculpture like that of South Indian
temples is dismissed as quite inferior to that of Europe.
With regard to theatre, which was quite important in
India, we are also told that it came from a Greek influence
because the Greeks had great dramas (though lacking in
the spiritual and yogic style of the Indians), again though
there is no Indian recollection to such a Greek influence.
For poetry, we are told that the classical Sanskrit poetry
of such as Kalidasa is artificial, sterile and
unrealistic, though it is highly spiritual, very musical
and quite sophisticated.
We are told that it can't compare with that of the Greeks
and Romans, much less Shakespeare! Great Indian traditions
of music and dance, said to go back to the Sama Veda,
are generally ignored as not of much value in world music,
at most meriting a short footnote!
Relative to science, most of Indian science, including Astronomy,
is reduced to a borrowing from the Greeks, though Indian
astronomy and mathematics follows different lines. Indians
did not need the Greeks to bring them Babylonian astronomy,
as many such scholars state, as they had contact with
that region long before Alexander and generally influenced
the Middle East more than it did India.
Ayurvedic medicine is similarly thought to owe a lot to the Greeks, though
Ayurveda has clear Vedic roots.
We must remember that India had a history of a great civilization
going back three thousand years before the time
of Alexander. Alexander's so-called conquest of India,
which was more of a raid, was not even mentioned in historical
records of India. Greek rulers in the third and second
century BC were mentioned, but were not considered extraordinary.
It is extraordinary that the later, minor Greek
rulers should find mention but not Alexander! In general,
Alexander's supposed influence on India is exaggerated
out of all proportion to reality. There was certainly
no great adulation of Greek culture as superior to that
of India, though Greek contributions in the field of astronomy
On the contrary, the Greeks spoke highly of the civilization of India.
Megasthenes, who came to India about the time of Alexander, in the fragments
of his Indika that remain records and Indian tradition of 153 kings going
back over 6400 years. Clearly, India had a sense of tremendous antiquity
for its civilization when the Greeks came. They didn't see the Greeks
as their superiors, as we do, nor did the Greeks themselves.
When it comes to religious literature, we are told that Vedic prayers and metaphors
cannot compare with the psalms of the Bible in sensitivity or sophistication.
For philosophy, there has been a desire to reduce Upanishadic thought
to a Greek influence, even though history does not support that. Still
a Greek borrowing is suspected.
For spirituality, we are told that Yoga, Vedanta and Buddhism are inferior
to Western monotheism and its greater sense of compassion and that their
claims of spiritual realization are either religiously or psychologically
suspect. This is in spite of the fact that Western mystics like Meister
Eckhart sound more like Hindu Vedantists than like Catholics, and though
the ancient Greeks looked up to the Indians for their spiritual wisdom.
Though devotion is emphasized in Vedic texts and in the Gita itself, we
are told that the great Hindu devotional tradition (Bhakti Yoga) owes
a lot to the Christians and Muslims, though these religions do not have
devotion as a yoga path or as connected with an understanding of yogic
states of consciousness!
What we are dealing with, therefore, is an unprecedented
and total negation of an entire civilization. We are not
presented with India as having its own indigenous civilization
comparable to that of China, Europe or the Middle East,
but India as having little cultural, religious, historical
or political unity of its own. And even this, we are told,
was brought by invading people and not an indigenous development.