Romila Thapar’s fusion of politics and history

via Dr.B.V.Subrahmanyam published on October 1, 2007

A letter to the Editor, The Hindu (which may or may not be published).


Sub: Ms. Thapar’s article “Where fusion cannot work – faith and history” in the Hindu d. Sept.28, 2007


Faith never needs support from any quarters. It can stand on its own. But what is expected of Archeologists and historians is that they must be impartial, truthful, objective and be without prejudice.


It is a fact that no investigations worth the name have been made post-independence to verify the phenomenon of Sri Rama. Under the circumstances, without adequate studies and basis, it was inappropriate for ASI to make statements and for us to look for correctness in such statements. ASI and historians tend to look for concrete evidences. Due to the very large time difference from the present, and as time takes its toll, very little is available by way of evidence. But such absence in itself is not adequate to negate the phenomenon.


There is a very long and hoary tradition indicating that Sri Rama did indeed exist. Sri Rama stands tall above all other Indian personages. This itself is a prima-facie evidence.


The only studies mentioned are the very limited geological explorations made by GSI at Rama Sethu   during 2002 -2005. Interestingly, the near sea level information obtained in this investigation seems to point out to the existence of the Sethu. Unfortunately, this was not pursued by subsequently. The need of today is for detailed, sincere, and multi-faceted investigations.


Ms. Thapar vaguely mentions opinion of some Indian scholars that Lanka is somewhere in Vindhya mountains. A reading of Valmiki Ramayanam shows that Sugriva clearly mentions the geography of south India when he directs Hanuman to search for Seetha , crossing the Rivers of Godavari,  Krishna, Kaveri, and Tamraparni and the provinces of Andhra, Pundra, Chola, Pandya, Kerala. He further mentions the southern ocean and the 100 yojana distance to the island capital of Ravana, the Lanka.


This is a direct reference to the presence of Lanka in the southern end and beyond the ocean. And the distance to it is mentioned as 100 yojanas , which is ratified later when Hanuman crosses the ocean. That should settle the issue of location of Lanka. Moreover, would it not be patently silly for one who has seen the mighty rivers of Godavari, etc , to mistake a pond in the Vindhyas to be the southern ocean ?


Also from the times of Rama to date, River Tamraparni continued to be in Southern India. According to Valmiki Tamraparni is a river and Lanka is  the island capital of Ravana. Ms. Thapar assumes that Valmiki made a mistake. But could a weary, foreign , Greek or Latin traveler not make that mistake of recording Lanka to be Taprobane (Tamraparni), due to misunderstanding of the local language. Can we thereby override what Valmiki and Sugriva, who have better local information ?


Thapar goes on to unfairly compare the Valmiki Ramayan (written many millennia before) to the Buddhist and Jaina versions which were written about the time of Christ.


Let us consider this. We all are seeking to reach the same God, but is there not an unfortunate rivalry and spirit of competition among the different religions ? Given the disagreement in concepts between Vedic Ritualistic and Buddhist philosophies, how correct and true could a Buddhist text be about Sri Rama’s life and details ? Thus, if at all, the Buddhist and Jain texts can be taken as supportive of the existence of Sri Rama, as they mention him. But their details have to be discounted and ignored, in favour of the details given by Valmiki.


Ms. Thapar takes it to be fantasy and wonders if the technical ability was there for Rama’s team to build the causeway. With the natural curiosity of a historian, she can well read the 40 verses in Yuddha Kanda, wherein Valmiki details the construction of the Sethu as a Causeway-bridge. The selection of the traditionally trained engineer-builder (Nala), the selection of the appropriate location, the types of materials that were transported, the use of machines (Yantras) to transport the materials, the way the construction was done, how strings were used to align the construction, the rate of progress made on in each of the 5 days, and ultimately, the appreciation of the bridge as a stupendous effort and a marvel are all mentioned. It is also recorded “That colossal bridge, which was broad, well-constructed, glorious, well postured and held together firmly, looked beautiful like a separating straight line in the ocean.”. Is it not a wonder that the NASA’s satellite picture of today presents the same impression.


It is a great pity that a historian with the encomiums mentioned fails to see an issue by itself, and instead sees politics in it. At the risk of repetition it might be stated that all those who believe in Rama sethu are not against the Sethusamudram project, but are only requesting for rerouting the canal without disrupting the sethu, which is a matter of their faith and is also a beautiful spectacle seeable from the skies.


Yes, fusion cannot work – between faith and history. But fusion cannot work between politics and history, as well.



29 Sept. 2007

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