An outstanding book I have run into these days is one by a renowned Harvard scholar Diana L Eck. The book is titled INDIA: A Sacred Geography.
Some historians say that Indians lack a sense of history. In chapter 2 of the book, captioned “What is India?” the author of this extremely well- researched book refers to such remarks, but goes on to affirm that it is however, “remarkable to discover that they (Indians) had a detailed sense of geography.” Diana adds:
Even in a time when travel throughout the length and breadth of the land must have been very difficult, there were traditions of geographical knowledge to suggest that such travel was indeed undertaken. And it is remarkable that even in a time when the subcontinent had no political unity whatsoever, those who described this territory to Alexander’s company thought of it and described it as a single land…
They also attested that India was roughly quadrilateral in shape, with the Indus River forming the western boundary, the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush stretched along the north, and the seas skirting the other two sides. They even cited its measurements: the length of the River Indus; the distance from the Indus to Pataliputra and from there to the mouth of the Ganges; the distances along the eastern and western coasts.
Alexander Cunningham, who under the British became Director of the Archaeological Survey of India, wrote in 1871:
‘The close agreement of these dimensions, given by Alexander’s informants, with the actual size of the country is very remarkable, and shows that the Indians, even at that early date in their history, had a very accurate knowledge of the form and extent of their native land.”
When the Britishers ruled our country one school of so called orientalists keen to promote the Empire were scornful of the idea that India was one country and that Indians were one people.
A prominent representative of this school was a British Civil servant, Sir John Strachey. Speaking at the University of Cambridge in 1888, Sir Strachey said “What does this name India signify? The answer that has more than once been given sounds paradoxical, but it is true,” he said. “There is no such country, and this is the first and most essential fact about India that can be learned. India is a name, which we give to a great region including a number of different countries.”
Sir John Strachey argued that Europe had more of common culture than India. “Scotland is more like Spain than Bengal is like the Punjab…There are no countries in civilized Europe in which people differ as much as the Bengali differs from the Sikh, and the language of Bengal is as unintelligible in Lahore as it would be in London.”
Diana Eck, the author of this book is a professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University. While her book Banaras, City of Light is regarded a classic in the field, this 559-page tome painstakingly projecting how Hindu mythology, interwoven with India’s Geography is a powerful and convincing refutation of the imperial thesis that India is not one country, and that Indians are not one people.
This book recalls Pandit Nehru’s incarceration in the Ahmednagar Fort where he wrote his Discovery of India. It was in this book that he reflected how his travels across the country during the freedom struggle made him acutely alive to the impression of the country’s unity. Nehru wrote:
Though outwardly there was diversity and infinite variety among our people, everywhere there was that tremendous impress of ‘oneness’, which had held all of us together for ages past, whatever political fate or misfortune had befallen us. The unity of India was no longer merely an intellectual concept for me: it was an emotional experience which overpowered me.
Diana comments: “Nehru’s vision of India surely included all its caste and regional communities, as well as its religious diversity. Although he espoused an ardent secularism throughout his political life, from his rising leadership of the Indian National Congress in the 1930s to his death as the first prime minister of India in 1964, it was a secularism that was somehow built on the kinds of deep, presumptively Hindu foundations we are describing.”
The BJP and the RSS hold that the basis of Indian nationalism is our culture. When in October 1961, the AICC held its session at Madurai, Pandit Nehru remarked that India has “for ages past been a country of pilgrimages.” He added: “All over the country you find these ancient places, from Badrinath, Kedarnath and Amarnath, high up in the snowy Himalayas down to Kanyakumari in the south. What has drawn our people from the south to the north and from the north to the south in these great pilgrimages. It is the feeling of one country and one culture and this feeling has bound us together. Our ancient books have said that the land of Bharat is the land stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the southern seas. This conception of Bharat as one great land which the people considered a holy land has come down the ages and has joined us together, even though we have had different political kingdoms and even though we may speak different languages. This silken bond keeps us together in many ways.”
Pandit Nehru’s Madurai speech clearly spelt out India’s ancient but constantly self-renewing culture as the ‘silken bond’ that unites our diversities into ‘one country’.
Hearty compliments to Umashree Bharati for the successful completion of the First Phase of her Ganga Samagra Abhiyan, to mark which a formal function was held at the Constitution Club on January 7, 2013.
The Abhiyan had two main components: one, a five-week yatra lasting from 20 September, 2012 to 28 October, 2012, from Ganga Sagar to Gangotri and secondly, a Manav shrinkhala (a Human Chain) all along the banks of the Ganga on December 2, 2012.
Sadhvi Uma Bharati’s campaign is aimed at two objectives. (i) Shuddh Ganga, (ii) Aviral Ganga.
At this well attended function Bharati ji gave the gathering an impressive account of the very enthusiastic response the Abhiyan had received from all communities and sections of society.
At the function held at the V.B.P. House, my daughter Pratibha’s 30 minute highly engrossing and educative film “Ganga” was screened.
In this book on Sacred Geography, there is a separate chapter on “The Ganga and the Rivers of India”.
In this chapter, Diana says : “There are few things on which Hindu India, diverse as it is, speaks with one voice as clearly as it does on Ganga Mata. The river carries an immense cultural and religious significance for Hindus, no matter what part of the subcontinent they call home, no matter what their sectarian leaning might be. As one Hindi author writes, “Even the most hardened atheist of a Hindu will find his heart full of feelings he has never before felt when for the first time he reaches the bank of the Ganga.” Or, we might add, when the Ganga reaches him. The use of Ganga water to evoke sentiments of unity among people of diverse regions and multiple Hindu traditions should be wholly benign. After all, this is a symbol that bears only beneficence, only the brimming water pot and the lotus.
Volunteers for Umashree’s campaign had gone to all MPs, MLAs and thousands of public representatives to present them with urns of gangajal. Umaji herself had gone to present gangajal to the Rashtrapati, the Hon’ble Speaker and several other distinguished VIPs.
All those who were part of this Gangajal presentation programme were, however, unanimous that the reverence which these urns commanded was not confined to Hindus but Hindus, Muslims, Christians. Sikhs etc. all alike.
January 11, 2013