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Indians were not ahistorical

Sunday, 30 June 2013 | Pioneer

Geography, People and Geodynamics of India in Puranas and Epics

Author : KS Valdiya

Publisher : Aryan Book,Rs 495

Noted geologist KS Valdiya investigates the geological history of the Indian subcontinent as mentioned in the epics and Puranas, hitherto a largely neglected field, writes Rohit Srivastava

In his famous Minutes on Education (1835), Thomas Babington Macaulay admitted that he had “no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic”, but nevertheless pontificated about the “intrinsic superiority” of Western literature. In the 20th century, Indian scholarship unfortunately internalised his views and rejected the merit of our ancient literature in totality, as part of a shameful attempt to gain acceptance — jobs, scholarships, seminar invitations — from Western academia, without ever trying to seriously evaluate the corpus and its relevance in our contemporary lives.

As a result of this intellectual abdication, modern Indians are totally disconnected from the intellectual currents of their native tradition over the past 3,000 years and cannot put context to its historical books and epics. In sharp contrast, historians in the West have made strenuous efforts to revisit Greek and Roman mythology with the help of archeology, geology and other branches of science.

The decades of intellectual sloth and subservience are now being shattered through pioneering work of experts with an appetite for new explorations and a desire to bequeath a legacy that future generations can view with pride. Thus, we have a number of path-breaking publications on the historicity of Hindu texts. Noted geologist KS Valdiya, through his book Geography, People and Geodynamics of India in Puranas and Epics, investigates the geological history of the Indian subcontinent as mentioned in the Puranas, hitherto a largely neglected field. Although every Hindu has for centuries done puja with the sacred mantra — “Jambudweep bharatkhande aryavarte” — very few know what Jambudweep is and where it lies, or what the difference is between Bharatkhande and Aryavarte.

According to the Puranas, the earth comprises of seven mega-islands or continents, each one bigger than the other, and all surrounded by oceans of salt water. The mega-islands are Jambudweep, Plaksh, Shalmal, Kush, Kraunch, Shak and Pushkar (Shiva Purana, Pancham Umasanhita, Kurma Purana). It is likely that the seven mega-islands are the seven continents we know today — Eurasia, Africa, South America, North America, Arctic and Antarctica. This book answers many such questions.

Ancient Indian texts are exhaustive in their treatment of flora, fauna, the geographical extent of India, the mountain ranges and the origin of rivers. These texts literally map the geography of India to such an extent that even today the Geological Survey of India would be astonished at what these authors recorded thousands of years ago, with few sophisticated tools in hand, covering meticulously the geography of almost the entire subcontinent and beyond.

The book scrutinises the Puranas for the geographical history of the subcontinent. The physiology of the country has changed since the time these books were written. The Puranas are part of Itihas (history) of ancient India. But Valdiya proves, with his expertise in geology, that these books also have recorded the changes in the geography of the land at the time the stories were being written.

We would do well to have a look  at these books to improve our understanding of the land and see the impact of changes on human civilisation. A case in point is the disappearance of the mighty Saraswati river which led to massive displacement and resettlement of the populace. Valdiya has mentioned a few Sanskrit verses to corroborate this. In the Mahabharata, Balram went in search of the Saraswati’s course; this proves that the disappearance of the river must have had enormous consequences for the people and the region. Balram has traditionally been credited with using his plough to pull the Yamuna, originally a tributary of the Saraswati, towards Mathura, thereby making it a separate river and saving the region for human settlement. The story explains the agricultural prosperity of Mathura which supported a rich and powerful kingdom.

Similarly, examining the locations of the 12 dhams with their jyotirlings, one would be struck by the realisation that practically all these places are characterised by spectacular landforms and extraordinary geological features shaped by uncommon earth processes. These facts speak volumes of the great vision, penetrating intellect and incredible knowledge of earth science among those who discovered them and made them national monuments by investing divinity on the naturally formed symbols of srishti or creation. There can be no denying, says Valdiya, that these men were not only intrepid explores and keen observers, but also deeply perceptive earth scientists.

The Pandavas, following Bhishma’s advice, went on a long pilgrimage across the country, visiting numerous shrines and cities, most likely to understand the socio-economic conditions and problems of the people inhabiting the different parts of the country. From this and many other accounts of pilgrimages and military campaigns, it is obvious that ‘Bharatvarsh’ of the Puranas and epic times was even larger than India before Independence. It is a sobering thought.

This book has been written in a scientific manner, with extensive use of maps, diagrams, satellite pictures and coloured pictures of geographical features — all extremely useful for students of Indian history and geography. The author has extensively researched Sanskrit texts, and every sentence is supported by appropriate shlokas with translations for the benefit of the general reader. Valdiya has taken care to be precise and to keep sceptics quiet with the liberal use of verses from ancient texts, rather than using generalised translations to support his conclusions. This book is compulsory reading for students of the civilisational history of India.

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