History or Puranas?
by Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao
Culture is man-made. Every man is born into
some culture or the other. He interacts with a spirit of 'give and take' with the society
around him to the extent he likes and feels such an interaction possible. Culture is
collective and is a result of an evolutionary development. The cultural process is
influenced by the external circumstances and has national and regional features too. But
all people belonging to a national or regional group do present or exhibit the same kind
of culture. Some are culturally weak and others are strong and capable of influencing
their fellowmen and other national groups as well. People like Tolstoy of Russia,
Shakespeare of England, Tagore of India, the Christ, the Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed
seem to have influenced the people of all regions through their cultures. But their
influence is spread over the ages and is not related to any specific age or any single
stage of social evolution of mankind.
Today, the sway of religion is weak and so is
that of religious culture. What is strong is the influence of Karl Marx, Lenin and Mao.
But there are still people around the world who influence others through religious ideas.
The Babas of our country have followers' abroad also. The religious influence is limited
in impact and will not help in the extensive development of mankind as the age of religion
is over. Similarly, literary culture can rarely influence today's life. For example, there
may be poets in our country today, but they will not get the same fame across the world as
Tagore got. The only culture that can propel the present day life is the politico-economic
culture. Only those nations which have modernised their life will progress and prosper.
Others who cling on to the old politico-economical cultures will slip back and regress.
Culture is an essential necessity for man. It
is culture that determines how an individual or a society faces and finds solutions to the
problems that confront them. We should clearly understand that culture embodies the value
system of the age. For example, there are people who continue to live in the bygone age of
religion. Our ancestors used to arrange fire-tests like dances with red-hot sticks and
holding live fire in palm to decide whether the accused has committed the crime or not.
Today, we do not consider such conditions as superior culture. Yet, in countries with
political systems based on religious fundamentalism, crude punishments like chopping off
of limbs of a petty thief and stoning to death of women indulging in permissive sex are
Superstitions abound in individuals and
nationalities where science has not seeped in. it is quite easy to establish their
backwardness. Similarly, the economic and political backwardness of individuals and
societies is clear from their ideas in these fields. The ritualistic mantra of democracy
can be chanted by anyone. But it appears from the attitudes of the political leaders to
the political and economic problems that these leaders do not even know the rudiments of
democracy. Bridging the economic disparities and achieving universal employment remain
only as concepts borrowed from those countries that have moved ahead of us. Even parrots
may be taught to pronounce words like 'democracy' and 'socialism'. But to understand them
is altogether a different matter.
Today, we do not have to toil to build a new
culture. There are countries that have raised the political and social dynamism of all
their people by just reducing the economic disparities. These countries have no problems
of inflation. Inflation and universal employment are not contradictory. These countries
are in the forefront of the modern age and are most competent to solve the problems facing
mankind. Those countries with such glaring contradictions as food grains rotting due to
insufficient storage capacity on one-hand and starvation deaths on the other, have to
learn from them.
On the contrary, boasting about 'our
culture'--our cinematic art and escapist literature evolved amidst ghastly social
injustices, carnage on Harijans, and political stink--sounds ridiculous. Even today, there
are nationalities living in stone-age civilisation. Any claim, in such circumstances, by
either individuals or groups about their cultural advancement is only self-deceit.
Probably, the very first step in out cultural advancement lies in the realisation that
stone age civilisation is still alive in almost all spheres in out 'civilised' life. We
live amidst political murders, dowry deaths, protection for culprits from the rich, muscle
men's support for political parties, ineffective police force and blood sucking
bureaucracy. It is beyond all imagination how the individual or social culture can
survive, let alone advance, in such an atmosphere.
(Translated from Telugu by
HISTORY OR PURANAS
by Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao
Is it history or Puranas that help a nation
to achieve progress? Perhaps only an Indian would affirm. Unlike westerners, we have
neglected to document historical facts. This has lead to a strange situation. The
westerners see in our vedic literature the great civilisation of India. The Central Asians
see the glory of mathematics, geography and medicine in our culture. But we see our
culture as being only in the Ramayana and are prepared to boast about it to the whole
Propagandists of Puranic culture indulge in
loud propaganda that the Ramayana has everything that is meant for our daily lives.
Unfortunately, we hardly tend to learn from history. Whoever says that our future depends
on the Ramayana!
What is more amusing, we do not leave
scriptures to themselves but tamper with them exaggerating anything to our convenience.
For example, in the Ramayana that is considered the epitome of our culture, events like
Sita's marriage, the story of Lava and Kusa have been given distorted over-emphasis.
Similarly, events not to our taste have been misrepresented. Guha, who is considered
friend of Rama is transformed into a Bhakta of Rama. Sabari is made another devotee. Rama
who reveals his common human weaknesses in a few instances suddenly becomes a God to cover
Even though the ancient culture is the basis
of our present culture, we should, for political reasons, understand history better. But
when we run into unpalatable facts of history we resort to the same tampering we do to the
Puranas. Historical facts are straightjacketed to suit puranic accounts of the same events
leaving no differences between them.
Various experiments are being undertaken to
reduce the obscurity in history. Archaeology and Anthropology are so helpful in this
attempt. Scientists are searching answers for questions like 'who were the Aryans?' and
'how were the Aryans related to the Indus Valley Civilisation?' In these attempts, the
scientists are using Puranas also as sources of information. Puranas are not completely
idle imaginary accounts. There are possibilities of finding some historical facts or clues
about our past. If archaeological findings conform to the puranic accounts, these can be
accepted as historical facts.
There are differences between the scientific
approach and the puranic approach. The trouble with the latter is that it boils down to
announcing huge monetary awards to those who discover the site where Arjuna is supposed to
have made a bed of arrows for Bhishma or the site where Krishna delivered his Bhagwad
Gita. But it does not even strike the people that the Gita could still be hidden
somewhere. Prhaps they could only scoff at Kosambi, who has analysed our history
scientifically, even if they have read him at all.
The historical understanding of our political
pundits is quite farcical. It is the same in the case of the artists. No wonder the
commoners ape the rulers. We do not seem to know the direction from which we came and the
direction in which we have to move. We cannot have any goal if we do not know even the
direction in which we have to progress. Understanding of the past is important for a clear
direction into the future. But the culture of mythology very often misleads people. We
believe that there were seven-storied buildings in the age of the Ramayana. And we know we
never had such structures even after a thousand years after the Harrappan civilisation
disappeared. Even assuming that such structures existed in the past (and now hidden), can
we certainly say that they belonged to the Raayana's period? We may see Sita in our
cinemas wearing nylon saris. But does it mean there were nylon clothes in the days of the
The attitude of traditionalist culture is
quite different. They argue that there was everything in those golden days. We had, they
say, tractors, atom bombs, transistors and even radar during the period of our
Historically speaking, mankind is progressing
day by day. The common man of today has facilities like good highways, fast moving
vehicles, cinemas and radios which even the kings and queens did not possess three or four
centuries ago. Queen Victoria is reported to have said, "Not so fast, Guard, Not so
fast!" as the first train in which she was travelling reached the speed of 15KmPH. In
less than a century, things have changed so much that her present successor, Queen
Elizabeth, can move a hundred times faster.
There was a time when ten acres of land could
sustain only a single person. Today, just an acre can yield subsistence to several
hundreds. The average life expectancy is on the increase. We have dependable medicines
even for diseases considered deadly and incurable a few decades ago. Doctors are in a
position to consider TB no more fatal than an ordinary fever.
But the traditionalists insist that the
modern age can hardly be compared with the good old days. For them, life was
unquestionably better in the Kritayuga and man has been deteriorating since then.
Even assuming that this is a fact, what we
cannot forget is that we are children of the last generation and live and struggle with
its problems in its own circumstances. We are not the children of the fables Saptarishis
of the past. This is quite clear. Anybody who loses contact with the techniques of
development will have to restart from the scratch. The culture of mythology can only keep
repeating that whatever is there today was already there in the Kritayuga. There is no
point in waxing eloquent on the so-called luxuries of our forefathers. We should come down
to the realities of our day and see how best we can eke out a living.
Whatever was achieved through the efforts of
people with an historical sense was lost in the irrationality of the mythological culture.
Archaeological findings have proven that the cities of Mohenjodaro civilisation had no
parallels in their day. In the days of the prosperity of Patna, nowhere on earth existed
any city of its kind. Ashoka's palace was so magnificent that travellers wondered if it
was made not by mortals, but by divine beings. Mauryan and Gupta took the Indian culture
to very high levels. Today, nothing of this grandeur exists. Only trash like Ramabhajans,
which do not even qualify as good mythologies, survive. After all, the traditionalists
believe that mankind has been continually degrading and so we are in a mental frame ready
for further deterioration.
(Translated from Telugu by