Ten Heads of Ravana: A Critique of Hinduphobic Scholars
For long, a handful of scholars and intellectual sites, whose understanding of Bhārata is disjointed from tradition and often inimical to the Dhārmic way of life, have controlled India’s civilizational narrative. They analyze Bhāratīya sanskriti through a Western gaze while discarding native models. Embedded in powerful ecosystems, gilded Lankas, they are increasingly replacing traditional guru-s and ācārya-s as the modern adhikāri-s of Indian knowledge systems.
In contemporary Indian scholarship, eminent personalities like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Shashi Tharoor, Ramachandra Guha, Sheldon Pollock, Wendy Doniger, Devdutt Pattanaik, Kancha Ilaiah, and Michael Witzel are at the forefront of such India studies.
Ravana was a scholar par excellence, but he was on the wrong side of Dharma. Hence, Śrīrāma waged a war against him to prevent a breakdown of society. Similarly, today’s embodiments of the historical Ravana—academically influential personalities, but grossly mischaracterizing the Dhārmic way of life and history of Bhārata.
In this collection of essays, authors Dr. K.S. Kannan, T.N. Sudarshan, Dr. Sharda Narayanan, Anurag Sharma, Divya Reddy, Manogna Sastry, Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay and Dr. H.R. Meera have brought to light, through rigorous evidence-based research, numerous factual inaccuracies, wilful misrepresentation and deliberate distortions in the scholarship of many such intellectual heads of the modern Ravana.
Poetic Healing Work!!
1. Romila Thapar
Pushpaka Vimana and the Flights of Her Historical Imagination
2. Sheldon Pollock
Propaganda and Prevarication
3. Michael Witzel
Flights of Fantasy
4. Devdutt Pattanaik
5. Irfan Habib
6. Shashi Tharoor
The Quintessential Macaulay Putra
7. Audrey Truschke
Truschke-nāma or The Tales of Truschke
Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay & Manogna Sastry
8. Ramachandra Guha
T.N. Sudarshan and Divya Reddy
9. Kancha Ilaiah
Sharda Narayanan & Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay
10. Wendy Doniger
Quest for Eroticism
Infinity Foundation India (IFI) has, for the past several years, been at the forefront in the field of civilizational studies, applying the lens of Dharma to examine a broad range of topics. As a leading think tank, it has published game-changing original research that has been widely disseminated through books, blogs, social media, e-learning courses and videos. The themes it has worked on have included the history of Indian science and technology, impact of modern technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, consciousness studies, cultural and spiritual history, comparative studies of civilizations, education, ecology, ethics and human rights. Since the past two centuries, Indology has been controlled by Western scholars and institutions, who have applied Western methods to study Indian civilization. Infinity Foundation India has been a pioneer in exposing this stranglehold and providing responses from the Indian point of view. It coined the term Swadeshi Indology to refer to this new approach to disrupt Western Indology and construct its own traditional interpretations. The present book – Ten Heads of Ravana – is the latest offering from our team of brilliant scholars.
The idea of Ten Heads of Ravana was born during an Infinity Foundation India retreat in 2019, to commemorate and reflect on its work thus far and plan ahead for the changing nature of the kurukṣetra. Nestled in the beautiful surroundings of Rishikesh, the retreat was a memorable time for the team to reconsider its work through Dharmic frameworks and paradigms. As they contemplated the current dynamics of Indology, there emerged a need for an anthology that would inform the general reader of the thoughts of some well-known scholars of the field. I am delighted to see that discussion bear fruit through this book.
The title of this anthology—Ten Heads of Ravana—has been chosen with care. The use of ‘Ravana’ is intended as a parody and not literally. The metaphorical resemblences are clear: The historical Ravana disrupted society’s Hindu structures, and the ‘heads’ chosen for this book are considered by Hindus today to be individuals doing something similar but intellectually and not with physical violence. The historical Ravana was very intelligent, a great scholar, hard working and with immense power at his disposal. The ten scholars featured in this book are powerful in the current academic discourse, have worked diligently most of their lives to develop their intellectual “weapons”, and their impact is not to be trivialized.
The scholars chosen as the intellectual heads of the metaphorical Ravana are being taken seriously in this book. There is no intention on the part of the authors to attack the individuals at a personal level, but rather to cast their work in the framework from the perspective of Dharma. The essays consider the major themes and arguments from each individual’s ouvre and showcase why they misrepresent and distort studies related to Bhārata and Dharma and why the typical reader needs to be mindful of the narratives being pushed due to the powerful influence of the ecosystem they have built over several decades. The authors have taken care to not engage in any ad hominem attacks or unprofessional takedown of the individual scholars.
The Ramayana, one of the greatest mahakavya-s of Bhārata, shows us the nature of Ravana as the king of Lanka and the main antagonist of the epic. He is believed to have learnt the Arthashastra from Shukracharya, adept at the use of maya and won boons from Brahma and Siva. Ravana’s use of tactics—from the manner in which he abducted Sita to his battle with Srirama and his army, trying to trick Sita by showing the severed head of Srirama, to using psychological warfare tactics during Sita’s captivity at the Asokavana—hold many lessons. These are not merely instances from an epic story but hold equivalents even in today’s world. In the arena of Indological studies, such tactics have presented themselves in the works of scholars we consider in this current volume, to create some of the most disempowering narratives for Dharma and Bhārata.
The ten contemporary scholars in this book have been chosen because their work includes aspects that many Hindus today consider adharmic, just as the historical Ravana was perceived in his time. And just as the historical Ravana defended his positions, so also the ten scholars featured have an aggressive presence on the world stage of Hinduism studies with their own points of view. The authors of this book respect the opponents’ right to intellectual freedom and merely wish to offer rebuttals so the readers can decide for themselves.
Each essay establishes the importance of engaging with a specific “intellectual Ravana’s” work in terms of contemporary influence, expands on the major positions of the protagonist, and shows how the arguments are rooted in weak and disingenuous foundations, while having disproportionate impact due to the intellectual and popular ecosystems they control. Matters such as the use of diacritics have been left to the discretion of each author for their respective articles.
Consider for example, the article on Romila Thapar. She has been one of India’s foremost historians, having held control of premier national educational and research institutions to influence academic discourse and government policies over decades. Anurag Sharma, in his brilliant essay, refutes Thapar’s historiographical assumptions by providing strong counterexamples from Indian history. In the first section, he critically examines her views on the Islamic period of Indian history; in the second, her theories related to Hindu Dharma and the sacred texts such as Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas; and in the third, her views on India as a nation and Hindu nationalism. Using evidence from fields of numismatics, archaeology, epigraphy, art and traditional texts to debunk many of the claims, Sharma makes a compelling case as to why Thapar’s work is unreliable and cannot be assumed as the mainstream narrative if we wish to return to scientific, objective and fact-based representations of history.
The Sanskrit scholar, Sheldon Pollock, has been the subject of my book The Battle for Sanskrit. Several volumes were published from the series of Swadeshi Indology conferences held in Chennai and New Delhi by Infinity Foundation India. The editor of these volumes, Professor K.S. Kannan, presents a powerful essay on Pollock’s major arguments and modus operandi. Kannan shows that despite being a scholar making his living from Sanskrit, Pollock denies the very nativity of Sanskrit to India, and calls the language dead despite many proofs to the contrary. Pollock’s work is analyzed for the major characteristics of his method, including how he uses a narrow definition to determine the vitality of a tradition, selects data to fit a theory and intentionally uses various terms/frameworks of social science, modern psychology, anthropology, Biblical Studies etc., in order to superimpose them on traditional Indian thought to discredit the latter. The major themes of Pollock’s work, including his devious quest to find linkages between Sanskrit and Nazism, trying to find racism in cāturvarṇya system, imagining connections and patterns of power in Sanskrit grammar are all considered by Kannan, while also highlighting the many rebuttals of Pollock’s work from several scholars.
Michael Witzel is an important scholar discussed in this anthology of essays and Manogna Sastry analyzes his work in her cogent essay. Sastry discusses one of the major themes of Witzel’s academic work, consisting of his championing the