A Never-Ending Conflict: Episodes from Indic Resistance
When Alexander invaded India in 326 BCE and stayed in Taxila, he happened to meet Hindu sages well versed in the true ancient Indian philosophy and the impact was truly long-lasting.
Vijayanagara Kingdom was the epitome of great Hindu culture and civilisation. IT was the most militarized Hindu kingdom, but its geography defeated it as it was surrounded by five Islamic sultanates, who joined hands and the result was indeed spine chilling. There has been a mighty warrior in Assam, who defeated the powerful Mughals in 1671 by excellent use of the topography, wily diplomatic negotiations, military intelligence, guerilla tactics and psychological warfare.
In its 3000 years old history, the jewel was never bought and sold. Whenever it changed hands, it brought the worst in the man to the fore leaving gory mayhem, abject violence and deep sadness in its train and brought havoc.
The Khilafat Movement was a pan-Islamist political protest campaign, launched by Indian Muslims to restore the caliph of the Ottoman Caliphate. It later became a catalyst in establishing the separate Muslim state which resulted in the death of approximately 10 lakh people and more than one crore people were displaced. Its reverberations are still felt in India.
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1. Alexander’s Conversations with Naked Sadhus
2. Vijayanagara—From Opulence to Ruins, the Price Paid by an Empire for Trust
3. Lachit Borphukan—The Unsung Hero of Assam
4. The Legend of Kohinoor
5. Eram Massacre of Orissa
6. The Partition of India and its Roots in Khilafat
The current period of contemporary India starting from around 2008, will be remembered for a big change in the way we began looking at ourselves. I consider the labelling of a peaceful community that believed—‘Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti’ (There is one truth; the wise call it differently), that always wished, ‘Sarve bhavantu sukhinah’ (Let all be happy and healthy), that not only tolerated but respected all faiths and gave shelter to all the persecuted people of the world with equanimity (as spelled out by Swami Vivekananda in his famous Chicago address) as a terrorist community to be the turning point in the battle of ideas. The still-born Communal Violence bill was the epitome of this narrative. Suddenly, millions of young people started questioning what was wrong with being a Hindu and began searching for answers.
This change became highly pronounced from 2014, the year Indians broke away from a self-pity and low esteem nation to a confident nation eager to be seen on the world stage. These are very interesting times. From the Left deciding for us, what should be read, what should be disclosed about our history and what was to be suppressed. From being spoon-fed by Macaulay’s education system nurtured and strengthened very carefully by the Left and Nehruvian ideas, the nation is moving toward an open society that is tired of being labelled as losers despite being acknowledged as world leaders as late as in the 1850s, a fact never taught to us. There is, now, impatience at the slow pace of breaking out of the defeatist Left narrative.
This period has seen the rise of many young writers and young public intellectuals. We, generally, believe that the RTE (Right to Education) generation is bereft of any sense of history and is happy enough to enjoy life, giving two hoots to social responsibility, and no conscious effort to ring in the change. It is true to a certain extent that in urban centres where English-speaking schools are further fuelling the detachment from our roots with a sanitised version of culture and history. However, rural people have the advantage of better historic memory kept alive with folklore and folk songs. I become positive and hopeful when I see many young men and women stand up for the idea of Bharat—a perennial civilisation with at least 10000 years of documented history, who refuse to buy the idea of India—supposedly born on 15 August 1947, or rather at the stroke of midnight of 14 August 1947.
Many of these new generation intellectuals have picked up a pen or embraced the internet to speak and share their views, present factual information with true culture and history to generation Z. Many of these new-age writers and public intellectuals do not come from the humanities stream. But, being from a science background, their works are presented more vigorously with a scientific view of the evidence and a sharp eye for data validation. Thus, the last resort of left historians and social academics that these writers don’t come from academic fields or humanities will not stand the test of time. Some of them may not be able to present their arguments in the strict pedagogic style of academia, but ultimately facts need to be correct to set the narrative straight.
Amit Agrawal comes from this new crop of writers. An IIT- trained engineer, he has obviously been reading and absorbing knowledge for quite a few years. His first book ‘Swift Horses sharp Swords’ was an outpouring of years of learning and imbibing history from the western as well as Indian historians. He didn’t depend only on historians like R.C. Majumdar and Jadunath Sarkar, who have been banished from university shelves in India or considered ‘communal’ now. This book was not just a linear view of history but an integrated look at history with sociological, scientific, and strategic observations. It is an unconventional way of narrating history and happily so. It pulsates with life. Amit contacted me after he had self-published his book. It is a massive book embracing nearly 1000 years of the history of Bharat. For a first-time writer to come up with such a book is commendable. I am sure as he grows as a writer he will hone his writing skills further.
Now, he has come up with a new style of presenting Bharatiya history. He has picked up those episodes in history which have been mostly wiped out of history books or presented in a distorted manner. I would look at it as an esoteric choice that covers every region of Bharat. From North West to North East, Eastern to the region south of Vindhya ranges. This approach makes reading much more interesting as it zips across various regions and periods.
There is a section on fateful Khilafat agitation that truly laid the foundation of Pakistan. Two of the sections—Story of Kohinoor and Khilafat contain within themselves the entire microcosm of the history of Bharat and the seeds of its future decline. The story of the Vijayanagar Empire presents the best and the worst of our political wisdom and some mistakes that we, as a dharmic society, keep committing even now. The story of undefeated commander Lachit Barphukan of Assam is a glorious history that needs to be told but is not known outside Assam. The tragic Eram massacre of Odisha on 28 September 1942 was worse than Jallianwala Bagh because the firing was ordered by an Indian officer, and has been simply wiped clean from our history books. It is painfully surprising that this episode is obliterated despite it being part of the Quit India movement. In local folklore, it is called Rakta Tirtha Eram (Eram— the pilgrimage of blood). The story of Alexander’s interaction with the fearless Naga Sadhus in 326 BC is a fascinating story of a confrontation between brute force and spiritual prowess. Thus, this collection of forgotten, or wiped away slices of history give you a multi-faceted overview of the history of Bharat from 4 BC, beginning with Alexander and ending with Partition of Bharat, leaving in its wake many thoughts and questions.
Being an engineer, Amit loves data and graphics which embellish this book too. He remains honest as a historian. He doesn’t mince words in praise or criticism of both sides on a battlefield. That makes his narration more believable and leaves it to the reader to decide who was right or wrong—the winner or the loser.
I am sure that the reader will find this off-beat approach to history-telling gripping, fascinating, and also instructive. People, who claim that history is boring, will change their view on reading this kaleidoscopic view of Indian history. I wish we had such history books that entertain even as they tell factual history; what we in Sanskrit call ‘Itihasa’—‘so-it-was’ or as it happened.
If you do not learn from history, you will be history.
So, here I am, penning my second book. While researching for my first book, I came across many tales and accounts which are barely known to Indians. This book is an attempt in this direction. In India, history is normally studied as a tedious lot of non-coherent facts and dates, not as an actual tale told in a scintillating manner. Thus, students are generally deprived of the complete story of their ancestors, the prevailing social, religious and economic conditions, the end result being that students are left without a sense of history. They also end up ignorant and misinformed of their precious ancient knowledge. This phenomenon has resulted in an unnatural craving for respect from the West while suffering from an immense inferiority complex. This has amplified the tendency of acute self-flagellation in the Indians. Salman Rushdie once wrote that we were all mysteriously handcuffed to history; it has become all the more important that someone tells it with requisite gusto and hunger. The book is a sincere attempt to fulfil that vacuum.
As with my first book, I have strived to use simple English with some crisp writing which will possibly catch the unwavering attention of the readers. I have covered those chapters of history that are relevant even today, and hopefully some lessons can be drawn out of it. Further, I have made all the efforts to make it as interesting and informative as possible, and for this very purpose, I paced it like a spy thriller which can be finished in a day or two.
Most of the Indian medieval history is indeed disturbing and depressing, and so in this volume, a morale-boosting story of Alexander’s tete-a-tete with the Sadhus on the banks of Indus is included. Stephen Dedalus, a character from James Joyce’s famous 1922 novel Ulysses, says: ‘History is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake’. This exactly is the purpose of the book, to awaken the readers from the ever-lasting slumber. Moreover, I wish to prove Henry Ford wrong when he famously said: ‘Some things are better forgotten. The brutality unleashed by the different invaders on our civilization has to be exposed rather than forgotten’.
George Santayana’s famous dictum, echoing Euripides andThucydides that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, stands so true for us Indians. My efforts are geared towards this: not to let the readers forget our history, no matter how violent it is. The idea is to give the readers hope by reminding them of our past idiocies, and at the same time, putting it down to experience. Another motive is to make our sense of history integrated and unbroken, to come to terms with the horrible past and the present, and hopefully to draw some lessons for the future.
In a nutshell, the common thread among all the tales is a depressing and systematic stratagem of the plunder of our lands, annihilation of temples across India, humiliation of the culture, subversion of our traditions, and lastly, the imposition of an alien faith whose values are in total contrast to its indigenous counterpart. The root of this violence lies in the Abrahamic distress with diversity of any kind. They want only one God, one religion, one language and one culture. While Indian culture celebrates copulation, they consider the togetherness and companionship as original sin. In contrast, Indian culture embraces diversity with open arms, revels in it, and accepts equality at a fundamental level of same consciousness permeating everything, including not only humans but also animals, trees and natural entities like oceans, rivers and mountains. But if it was understood, there would not have been witch burning at stakes, gory Islamic conquests and colonization round the world.
Therefore, the stories presented in this book point to a grand narrative of ethnic and social hatred and their grotesque eruption every now and then. They are still relevant to us, and in a way, they scan and examine the prevailing power and politics. Besides, history is not just about kings, their kingdoms and wars; it is also about the advancement of art, science, literature, architecture, and above all, the human intellect, which have played a key role in the progression of our civilization. I have tried to integrate such aspects in the book, and hopefully, the book will be as much a comprehensive experience for our generation as it is a plea to learn from our raging history.
I don’t claim to be an expert of history, and my efforts are only inspired by the passionate desire to see our history as-it-happened written by us, rather than by outsiders. In this collection, I have endeavoured to include stories from all regions and of every era. From the Northeast, the story of Lachit Borphukan and from the South, Vijayanagara is represented. The Kohinoor and Khilafat movement traversed the whole of Asia in the medieval era. Alexander might have been the only invader who wanted to truly learn something from the oriental wisdom.
The stories of kings of Vijayanagara and Lachit were chosen, as they resisted the Islamic invasion heroically for centuries, but their names have been lost in the rigmarole of secularism. These kingdoms amply showed that the invasions were not a cakewalk for the Mughals and Turks. These warriors kept the fire of Dharma alive, and consequently, they can be the role models for the present generation. The stories of Kohinoor and Khilafat still have reverberations in our country. Alexander had a pyrrhic victory over Porus and thought it wise to return from the banks of Indus. There he met wiser Sadhus who taught him a thing or two about Hindu wisdom. Though he listened to them carefully, he failed to imbibe anything. The book would take you through these wonderful and hand-picked stories through the eyes, ears and mouth of the characters who once lived these tales.
The exact history of these stories is lost in the mists of antiquity and hence an honest effort to retrieve and present it in concise and clutter-free format is being made. Our children are growing rootless and supposedly ashamed of their culture, traditions and religion. This is also a sincere attempt to find our own historical role models of which we are so bereft. In the absence of such role models, hitherto the whole country has been taught to believe that they are perennial losers. Our traditions, culture and customs are routinely mocked in our own country, mostly by Hindus. Consequently, we end up eulogizing shallow film heroes, smug cricketers and corrupt politicians.
Like everything else in India, every event, place or object can be traced to its rich Puranic heritage. Hence these tales at the beginning of each chapter have been included to have a glimpse of religious and cultural significance. The story then cleverly descends into the realm of more mundane history. I have taken the liberty to weave various authentic subplots, side plots, folklores, anecdotes and legends of that slice of history to give a panoramic view. To buttress that, numerous pictures, tables and citations have been used liberally so that history comes alive to you. Additionally, they lend ample credibility and authenticity to the story. However, a point of caution: legends and folklores have a tendency of being historically inaccurate, yet they enrich the story immensely. Wherever I have used them, I have given the marker. I hope you would find such digressions richly informative, entertaining and instantly transport you back to that turbulent era.
As with my first book, I tried to present the piece of history concisely while cutting out the clutter of too much detail. The idea is to present history truthfully and analyse it in a balanced, yet entertaining form. History is a science of logic and intuition that banks upon verifiable evidence. Hence, history is presented here with certain truthfulness peppered with enough emotions to take you on a roller-coaster ride, very much like the Indian katha tradition. In this way, I tried to go beyond mere description and capture the very soul of a place and its people. Further, all the facts have been sourced from the numerous authentic books and presented as it happened. The business of the historian is never to correct history but to analyse it in an impartial manner, learn from it and then write accordingly. The stories depicted here mostly deal with the Hindu-Muslim binary and is very difficult to remain balanced. Hence, there might have been some ideological slant crept in inadvertently.
Let us take this history as helpful, hopeful and probably fun-ful. Let us also shed a few drops of tears for all those fearless Hindu kings and warriors who laid their lives for the defence of the tradition, culture, religion, language and every other symbol of the ancient glorious heritage. Today we again find ourselves in the same cesspool as the citizens of Vijayanagara once found themselves in the sixteenth century or Indians again at the time of partition in 1947. The question is do we learn appropriate lessons from history or continue repeating the same mistakes. The choice is ours. Choose intelligently.
Most of these battles and events have lacerated the Indian mind and body ad infinitum. There has always been us on one side and terror on the other. The wounds have been festering all along as Hindus have yet to become avengers. The blood never dried and the tears never stopped flowing. In this world, only strength respects strength. Let us also be vigilant for any future slaughters and must not let them happen again. In a nutshell: Never forget and never forgive.
Indian history, particularly the medieval one, was written predominantly by Left historians, especially after independence. For them, Hindus have always been invaded and defeated by Islamic and British intruders. Of late, another school of ultra-right historians and readers has cropped up recently who believe that Islamic Sultanate and Mughals ruled only over a small portion of North-West and North India. They also believe that since caste is a Portuguese word, it is a recent fifteen-century European-imposed construct on hapless Hindus and before that Hindus were very egalitarian people. The reality lies somewhere in between, unfortunately. Hindus indeed fought very bravely but continued to commit similar fundamental mistakes again and again and again. To correct those ills of the past, it becomes important to examine our weaknesses as well, in line with our age-old tradition of ‘tark/vitark’. The unabated use of elephants in the battles and non-upgradation of the latest military technology dealt a deadly blow to the Vijayanagara kingdom. In the modern era, support of the Khilafat movement was virtually hara-kiri by the Congress whose repercussions are still felt in our society even after the deadly partition. If corrective actions are not taken in time, people may have to prepare for another partition in a not-so-distant future.
Without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, I now present the whispering eternal tales of reverential worship, unimaginable opulence and unparalleled destruction. Sit back, relax and allow your fertile imagination to time-travel to verdant valleys of brave Assam; on a tumultuous ride of majestic but accursed diamond to far-off Persia and Britain; to view the panoramic royal pavilions and hilltop temples of Vijayanagara; to observe the blood-curdling Khilafat movement which incessantly continues to reverberate, even today, in Indian landscape; to listen to sublime philosophical interaction of wise sadhus with Alexander on the banks of Indus.
A fun fact: This is not a scholarly work.