Monday, December 7, 2009

Why don't you love it??

Sonadhar's Magic Continued



Sonadhar's Magic

This is unmistakenly Sonadhar!!!

Pls Visit Sonadhar Viswakarma

This is an urgent letter from Kalaboti Mudra.
This is the photograph of legendary artist Sonadhar Viswakarma, he and his community worked with legendary meera mukherjee and the torch bearer of Indian craftspersonship and metallurgy from thousands of years.
He came in a Handicrafts mela Kolkata, Salt Lake, Central Park, Karunamoyee. it will on till 13th Dec, Sunday. He was not recognised by the people or by the organizers. Kalaboti Mudra spotted him in a remote corner without visitors.
He and his community should be recognised as a national treasur. Here in Kolkata, "rajdhani of arts and crafts" no one recognizing him and his community and the organizers are seems not aware about the traditionality. We should remember out great tradition and encourage our torchberer individual and commuities as well.
Pls visit the mela and talk to Sonadhar if possible and buy if you can. He and his community is a national treasure.
We are putting a small write up on Sonadhar Viswakarma and community and his work and his association with Meeradi.
We are extending our heartiest thanks to those who supported this venture and supplied various information on him and his work and meeradi.
Sonadhar is skilled in making utility items like sickles, knives, drills, saws, ploughs, axles, axes, pickaxes, spades, arrows, etc as well as artistic items like bird and animal forms, trees, habitat and beautifully crafted puja items which are immensely appealing. He is fully familiar with the traditional technology of making iron from local iron-ore called 'Ghana' in Bastar. Sonadhar has introduced innovation in designs like making four-footed animals in place of traditional two footed ones as well as other designs. His innovations won him the first National Award in the craft of Lohakam in 1992. His son Baxshilal has continued the tradition of Lohakam craft by joining his father. His wife, sons and daughter help in producing these iron artifacts. He has participated in numerous exhibitions at state, regional and national levels all over the country.

He is fully familiar with the traditional technology of making iron from local iron-ore called 'Ghana' in Bastar.Sonadhar has introduced innovation in designs like making four-footed animals in place of traditional two footed ones as well as other designs.
His innovations won him the first National Award in the craft of Lohakam in 1992. His son Baxshilal has continued the tradition of Lohakam craft by joining his father. His wife, sons and daughter help in producing these iron artifacts. He has participated in numerous exhibitions at state, regional and national levels all over the country.
Lohakam or iron-craft was used by the blacksmith to make agricultural implements and other items of utility until it became another expressive form of art. Lohakam or iron-craft is a traditional art used to make objects like lamps, trays, animal figures, etc. Iron is creatively used by the beating and hammering method to form elegant shapes. In early times and presently in remote villages iron-ore was generally collected from the mountains and liquefied in the Oven or Bhatti over a coal fire to obtain pure iron. In recent times it is easier to buy iron in the market - already made into sheets and rods. The method of work involves tempering of specially shaped pieces of Loha or iron with a hammer, after the pieces have been softened over a dish of burning coals. Legendary Meera Mukherjee learnt the native technique of bronze casting from the Dhokra artisans of Bastar, who used the cire-perdue process in a unique way. They arranged wax threads over the core wax form before covering the wax model with two layers of clay. The first layer was in very fine clay while the other was coarse and fired hard. The cast bronze would then have a rich and ornamental surface of curves, spirals lines, etc. of bronze threads. Meera spent many years staying with them, won their confidence and acquired the basic knowledge of their technique which she put to use in a creative way in her sculptures. This lady worked with this man and with this community day and night.
Hope in future we should honour our masters, communities and their crafts.
thanking you
from Kalaboti Mudra ও লোকফোক

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Before the British came, India was a rich country and the fame of its wealth attracted both travelers and invaders. Minerals and Metals in Pre-Modern India by A.K. Biswas (2001) does give us a dazzling glimpse of this wealth, especially of the gemstones. The riches of India were mind-boggling indeed and Biswas tries to give a fair idea of its wealth. The British claimed that they came to ‘civilise’ India, but the reality was that they came to plunder its fabulous wealth and
The wealth of nations in the past, in the absence of the modern day convertible currency, was generally evaluated in terms of the minerals and metals a kingdom controlled. The stories of the richness of India in the past had reached far and wide and were so alluring that as soon as explorer expeditions were undertaken in the medieval times, their main aim was to discover a route to India. The fantastic stories about the wealth of India in the past are so mystifying that ancient India
was often referred to as the Golden Bird. Arun Kumar Biswas who had earlier done the book on Minerals and Metals in Ancient India__here takes a look at the gem-minerals in the pre-modern India. Gems are precious stones occurring along with other minerals below the surface of the earth.
Biswas looks into the gems in the pre-modern India mainly under the following heads: (a)travelers' accounts of Indian gems; (b) the gem treasury of the Moguls; (c) some specific gem minerals such as pearl, coral, ruby and sapphire, etc.; (d) and the Indian diamond mines in the premodern era.
Travelers' Accounts of Indian Gems
At the outset we are informed that India's traditions in ancient and medieval gems are authenticated not so much by archaeological evidence as by the travelers' accounts. There are numerous and rich accounts in this regard, some of which Biswas says were collected by Valentine Ball. As far back as AD 77, we are told, Pliny in his Historis Naturalis had given extraordinary information regarding precious stones and metals around the world, a large proportion of them being of Indian origin. He referred to Indian adamas (diamond), smaragdus (emerald), beryl, opal, etc. In AD 140-60 Ptolemy too referred to diamond mining on the Adamas River. Besides others, the account of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, the famed poet who accompanied Malik Naib, Alauddin Khalji's army general in AD 1310-1312 military expedition to south India,
describes the colossal treasure of gold, emerald and other gems which had been collected during the earlier' periods of ancient India. Khusrau, after the capture of the fort of Warangal says, The boxes carried by the elephants were full of valuables and gems, the excellence of which drove the onlookers mad. Every emerald (zabarzad) sparkled in the light of the sun. . . . The corundum/sapphire (yaqat) dazzled the eye in the sun. The cat's eye (ainul hirrat) and the cock's eye (ainul dzk) were so brilliant. The lustre of the rubies illuminated the darkness of the night. The emeralds had a fineness of water that could eclipse the lawn of paradise. The diamonds (ilmas) would have penetrated into an iron heart like an arrow of steel. The other stones were such that the sun blushed to look at them. As for the pearls, you would not find the like of them, even if you kept diving into the sea through all eternity. The gold was like the full moon of the twelfth night; it
seemed that in order to ripen it, the alchemist sun, had lighted its fire, and the morning had blown its breath, for years. . . . The Ariz-Mumalik (gemmologist) divided the jewels into 'genus' and 'species', 'class' after 'class',
and had everything written down. . . . Among them was a jewel (Koh-i-Nur ?), unparalleled in the whole world.
The sack of the golden temple of Barmatpur was similarly described by Khusrau. He wrote:
Its roofs and walls were inlaid with sparkling rubies and emeralds, and after gazing at them, red and yellow spots came before the spectator's eye. . . . The heads of the idol-worshippers came dancing from their necks.
The golden bricks rolled down and brought with them the plaster of sandalwood; the yellow gold became red with blood, and the white sandal turned scarlet. The foundations of the temple, which were mines of gold, were dug up, and its jeweled walls, which were mines of precious stones, pulled down. . . . There were five hundred mans of precious stones.
Malik Naib reached Delhi in AD 1312 with 612 elephants, 20,000 horses, 96,000 mans of gold (the figure seems absurd though), many chests of jewels and pearls. The old men of Delhi declared:
"No one remembers such treasures and spoils brought ever to Delhi."
Marco Polo, the famous Venetian traveller of the thirteenth century, reported diamond trade going on through the ports of the Guntur district, the big stones going to the Indian kings and the great Khan, and 'the refuse of the finer stones to Europe'. These treasures in their turn were plundered by the various Muslim invaders from northern India. Muhammad Bin Tughlak loaded hundreds of elephants with the precious spoils of Hindu temples. Ibn Battuta, Ferishta, the Venetian Nicolo
Conti and others have all described the great wealth possessed by the kings of south India in the form of precious stones.
The Gem Treasury of the Moghuls
As we know the Moghul dynasty is of greatest importance in the Indian history for the duration of its reign and for the stability it brought. The dazzling wealth of the Moghuls was so enormous that it is alluded to as one of the richest in the wold in its time. The Moghuls largely consolidated the gem treasures of their predecessors. Biswas says Erskine and King have identified Babar's diamond, weighing according to Ferishta 186 English carats, to be identical with the famous Koh-
I-Nur now in the British vaults. Valentine Ball however refuted this identification,and suggested that Babar's diamond has to be identified with the Daryti-i-Nur now in the Shah's treasury in Teheran.
Akbar was the first Moghul who organised a 'treasury for precious stones' as described by Abul Fazl. Rubies, diamonds, emeralds, red and blue yaquts were categorised under 12 classes and pearls into 16 classes. Jehangir was a great lover of gems, particularly diamonds and jades. By the time of Shah Jahan, the treasury had a huge stock of diamond, emerald, lapis lazuli, ruby (some inscribed), sapphire and also rosary, necklace and ornaments studded with them.
Aurangzeb was the proud possessor of all the gold and jewels worth 4 million pounds (of those times!) owned by Dara Shikoh and a larger amount of treasure possessed by his father. In addition, he had seven magnificent thrones, one wholly covered with diamonds, the others with rubies, emeralds or pearls. Biswas tells us that Tavernier was allowed to examine Aurangzeb's jewels for the first time on the 2nd November 1665. Being a jeweler and gemologist himself his account is of great importance. The first piece that he was allowed to examine in his hands was the 'Great Moghul' later known as the Koh-i-Nur diamond, a round rose, very high at one side weighing 268
English carats. He described and drew the shapes of this 'Great Moghul' and seven other pieces.
Tavernier also saw a jewel set with 12 diamonds, the central one being 'a heart-shaped rose of good water'. There was another jewel set with 17 diamonds. Aurangzeb had a large collection of pearls, the largest being a pear-shaped one, a little flattened on both sides, weighing approximately 60 carats. Tavernier also described the 158 carat oriental topaz (actually yellow sapphire) ofoctagonal shape which Aurangzeb wore on his cap during coronation, several cabuchons (polished but not cleaved) of ruby and balas ruby, etc. There was a ruby square shaped with two inches sides, bearing the name of Jehangir which was taken to Persia and later ended up in Ranjit Singh's collection.
The Peacock Throne
In the Peacock Throne, the four bars which supported the base of the throne were inlaid with gold and enriched with numerous diamonds, rubies and emeralds. The middle of each bar was decorated with ornamental square cross constituted of either one central ruby with four emeralds round it, or one central emerald with four rubies on four sides. The intervals between rubies and emeralds were covered with diamonds. There were similar decorations all around the throne.
Tavernier counted 108 rubies, all cabuchons, weighing 100 to 200 carats each and 110 emeralds weighing 30-60 carats each on the great throne. In this connection Tavernier wrote:
The underside of the canopy is covered with diamonds and pearls, with a fringe of pearl all round, and above the canopy, which is a quadrangular shaped dome, there is a peacock with elevated tail made of blue sapphires and other colored stones. The body of the peacock is made of gold inlaid with precious stones, having a large
ruby in front of the breast, whence hangs a pear-shaped pearl of 50 carats or thereabouts, and of a somewhat yellow water. On both sides of the peacock there is a large bouquet of the same height as the bird, consisting of many kinds of flowers, made of gold inlaid with precious stones. . . .
The cost of the famous throne has been variously estimated, at the value of rupees at that time, as Rs. 4 crore (Bernier) to Rs. 10 crore (Tavernier). The throne was taken to Persia by Nadir Shah.
Nadir Shah also took away in 1739, the entire (70-80 million pounds worth) gem treasure at Delhi, including the celebrated piece Koh-i-Nur. The huge collections of gems and jewellery, looted from India, adorn the museums of London and Teheran. The chests 'filled with gold, silver, diamonds, pearls and emeralds from the Moghul treasury' are now in the Teheran Museum. This has been characterized by a Curator of the Smithsonian Institution as 'perhaps the greatest jewel treasury of all times'.
Pearl and Coral
The pearl fisheries in India flourished in the ancient period. In seventeenth century, Tavernier reported about the trade going on in the Gulf of Persia as well as in the gulf separating Sri Lanka and south India. The pearl-fishing in the Manar used to take place twice a year during March-April and then August-September and the sale lasted from June to November. Tavernier, comparing the pearl fishers of Manar and the Gulf of Bahrein wrote: The people of Manar are better fishers, and
remain for a longer time under water than those of Bahrein; they do not place any clips on their noses nor cotton in their ears to keep the water from entering, as is done in the Persian Gulf.
A small town named Lantegree in Maharashtra was a great centre of coral polishing in the early seventeenth century. The preference of the Indians and other Asians for coral was manifest even during the ancient period, and the reason for this preference has been subject of many dissertations. The real reason could be religious. The reddish yellow coral is known as
rudrakhsha, the eye of the Siva and a symbol of renunciation and spirituality. It must have gained popularity during the Tantric period of .Hinduism and (Mahayana) Buddhism. The 'ornament for the neck' used by the common people was a rosary of coral beads, which were counted during prayers.
The Rock Crystal
The Indian tradition of jewelry made of rock crystal such as agate, carnelian and quartz is very ancient but not well-documented. There was widespread use of chalcedonic and crystalline quartz in ancient India. Ball reported that the lapidaries at Vellum, a town in south India, had skilled workers in different varieties of rock crystal, such as the ordinary pellucid quartz, smoky quartz,
cairngorm and amethyst. The ornaments made were chiefly of broach stones cut in the brilliant, rose and other patterns. Godavari district, Hyderabad state and Sambalpur district of the Central Provinces also provided brilliant rock crystals. Aurangpur of the Gurgaon district, 15 miles south of Delhi, had Aravali quartzite from which quartz crystals were extracted. Biswas conjectures that these might have been used for making vases and ornaments. Tavernier saw Aurangzeb drink from a large cup of rock crystal placed on a golden saucer, enriched with diamond, rubies and emeralds.
After the 1857 War of Independence, the Delhi Palace was looted and found to contain many drinking vessels, vases and pitchers made of rock crystal, which were later described by Valentine Ball. The best known deposits are found in the Rajpipla hills at Ratanpur, on the lower Narmada River. Deposits of carnelian were mined and processed also near the Mahi River, north of Baroda.
Biswas here refers to the mining and working of the stones at Ratanpur, vividly described in 1878 by J.M. Campbell (Bombay Gazetteer, Vol. VI, p. 205) and reproduced by Valentine Ball. Ratanpur has been the centre of the more than 2000 years old international trade on articles made of agate and carnelian.
Corundum, Ruby and Sapphire
It is generally accepted that the use of white corundum started in India. Even the name is derived from the Sanskrit word kuruvinda. The British travellers of the early nineteenth century reported indigenous mining works on corundum in India. Captain Newbold, for example, found in the 1840s widespread corundum mining in the Salem district: at Caranel, Anpore, Mallapollaye and at various localities up the river Kaveri. Newbold also described the mines at Golhushully and Kulkairi in Mysore (Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. VII). In his papers (Records Geological
Survey of India, Vol. V, 1872 and Vol. VI, 1873), F.R. Mallet published accounts of his visit to a mine situated on a hill between Pipra and Kadopani. Several yards (at places 30 yards) thick reddish grey bed of corundum rested between quartz schist and porphyritic gneiss with hornblende rock. Traceable up to about half a mile, the deposit appeared to Mallet to be 'practically inexhaustible'. To him considerable amount of pre-modern mining must have taken place before 1814, and it was still going on in 1871. W. Hoey made a comprehensive report in 1880 on the trade and manufacture of gemstones including rubies and sapphires. Holland described the Indian
lapidary (begri) using different kinds of discs (san) for cutting precious stones.
Rubies were reported in the Salem district and the Mahanadi river between Cuttack and
Sambalpur, but most materials came from upper Myanmar from places like Kyatpyen, 70 miles north-east of Mandalay. Many of the famous rubies known in Europe can be recognized to be of Indian origin on account of the way in which they are pierced through the middle. One such huge specimen acquired in 1867 now adorns the crown of the British queen.
Similarly, one Indian sapphire weighing 225 carats was brought to England in 1856. Sri Lanka provided most of the sapphires. The 563 carat 'Star Sapphire of India' is displayed in the American Museum of Natural History, New York. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington possesses 'Star of Bombay' corundum, 'Bismarck Sapphire' of Sri Lanka and the Roser Reeves Collection of ruby gems.
Writing sometime in the middle of the seventeenth century, Nicols mentioned about zircon gems being found in Cannanor and Cambay in India. The alluvium at Ellora contained large obtuse octahedron crystals of zircon along with corundum and these (Sanskrit, gomed, red ones known as hyacinth) must have been utilised by jewellers of Cambay.
Garnet jewels were also popular in India. Voysey, Newbold and others reported recovery of garnets from the Mahanadi bed in Orissa, Kondapilli (lat. 16°38' N, long. 80°36' E) in the Godavari district, Gharibpeth, 8 miles south of Paloncha in Hyderabad, etc. There were extensive mines of garnet in the Kisengarh State of Rajputana near Sarwar (lat 26° 4' N, long, 75° 4'30" N) from which gems of large size and good colour were obtained, and the Raja derived large revenue.
There are also reports of the mining and widespread trade of beryl in India, ever since the days of Patanjali.
Diamond Mines
Amongst the gemstones, diamond is considered to be the most precious of all. Biswas reports that Kautilya's Arthasastra of the late fourth century BC was probably the first text to describe the Indian diamond or vajra and the mode and area of its occurrence (2.11. 37-41). The mine and stream deposits were listed as their sources. It is hard to identify precise locations of place names mentioned in Arthasastra, Brhat-samhita, Ratnapariksa, Agastimata, or other texts describing gems, regarding diamond fields, but we may guess the following locations: Wairagadh (ancient
Vajragrha) eighty miles south-east of Nagpur on the Bath river, a tributary of Weinganga (Vena Ganga of the Brhat-samhita); the Kosala region of Akaravanti around the famous Panna in Madhya Pradesh; the region around the Golkonda mines, formerly known as Matanga; the Paunda or the Chota-Nagpur area around Soumelpur; the Kalinga alluvial resources from the Mahanadi valley, the Sambalpur district, the Koel river Hirakund, etc. Diamond-washing has been traditionally done by the tribes of Savara of Sambalpur area, Kols of Chota Nagpur, Gonds of Madhya Pradesh, etc. Howard enumerated 23 mines in the kingdom of Golkonda and 15 in the kingdom of Bijapur.
C. Ritter in his Erdkunde von Asien (Vol. IV, part 2, p. 343,1836) collected various scattered reports on Indian diamonds. Valentine Ball provided a more exhaustive account of diamond works in pre-modern India. C. Ritter arranged Indian diamond mines known to him in five groups, from south to north:
1. The Cuddapah Group on the Penner river including ancient mines of Condapetta,
Munimadagu, Wajra Karur, etc.
2. The Nandial Group between the Penner and the Krishna River including the mines of
Banaganapalli, Ramulkota, etc.
3. The Ellore or Golkunda Group on the Krishna River. This includes famous mines of
Kollur, Partial, Muleli or Malavilly.
4. The Sambalpur Group on the Mahanadi River. In this group Tavernier's Sumelpur or
Semah/Semul on the North Koel River as well as Wairagarh of the Central Provinces’ was
5. The Panna Group in Bundelkhand.

Tavernier has described the diamond-processing operations at Kollur. He also described diamondcutting on the site by steel-wheel, aided by water, oil and diamond dust. He observed:The Indians are unable to give the stones such a lively polish as we give them in Europe: this, I believe, is due to the fact that their wheels do not run so smoothly as ours.
But the business around the mines was 'conducted with freedom and fidelity'. Even children of age 10 to 16 were proficient diamond-testers handling big and defective specimens and polished diamond but not cut with equal ease. The ancient diamond mines in the Bhima-Tungabhadra- Krsna-Godavari valleys in the Andhra Pradesh region have been specially studied and reported by Voysey (1833), King (1872), Munn (1929), Dutt (1953) and Rao (1969). Dutt has drawn attention to the occurrence of diamond in the Andhra Pradesh region in three forms: (1) in river gravels, (2) sedimentary rocks or detritals, and (3) in the Archaean crystallites. In his writings on the 'Diamond mines of (greater) Bengal', Valentine Ball drew attention to the three distinct localities in the Bengal-Bihar-Orissa region, which produced diamond in the pre-modern period.
Decline of Diamond Trade
Valentine Ball asserts that there was no real exhaustion of the localities where diamond mining was possible. On the contrary, the diamond beds were extended far more than the ancient miners ever knew. Ball hoped that scientific guidance would improve diamond production in India. Dutt attributed various reasons to the decline of Indian diamond industry: exhaustion of diamondbearing rocks, water trouble in the excavations, oppressive nature of the mining and political administration, absence of systematic prospecting operations, superstitions amongst the workers and the discovery of diamond fields in other parts of the world. India lost its monopoly in diamond trade in 1728 when Brazilian mines were first exploited. In 1870 the South African mines monopolized the global market in this precious gem.
Mining and processing of gem minerals were to be done for the affluent section of the Indian society and the outside world. The reasons for the low quantum of output were a very large number of poor people who worked under appalling conditions. Technological levels were primitive and almost no attempt was made to upgrade them. Interactions between workers of different trade guilds, and between workers and intellectuals were negligible. The scholars of the Ratnasastras and the Muslim gemmological texts hardly show any progress in their knowledge on the subject. Even under an apathetic atmosphere, the ill-paid and ill-fed Indian workers toiled in
the mines and produced exquisite art-jewellery for the whole world to marvel at.
Main Source:
Biswas, Arun Kumar. 2001. Minerals and Metals in Pre-Modern India. New Delhi: D.K
Printworld (P) Ltd.
Select References
Ansari, S.M.R. 1975. On the Physical Researches of Al-Biruni, Indian Journal of History of
Science, Vol. 10, No.2, November 1975,pp. 198-217.
Biswas, A.K. 1991. Minerals and Metals in Ancient India, Indian National Science Academy,
New Delhi.
Ball, Valentine. 1879-80. A Geologist's Contribution to the History of Ancient India, Presidential
Address to the Royal Geological Society of Ireland, Journal of the Royal Geological Society of
Ireland, Vol. V, Part III (New series), 1879-80, pp. 215-63.
Ball, Valentine. 1881. A Manual of the Geology of India, Part III, Economic Geology, Geological
Survey of India, Calcutta, 1881.
Ball, Valentine. 1989. Travels in India by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier - edited translation of the
original French edition of 1676 in 2 volumes, 1889, Reprint by Oriental Books Reprint
Corporation, New Delhi.
Begley, W.E. and Z.A. Desai, 1990. The Shah Jahan Nama of Inayat Khan. Oxford University
Press, New Delhi, 1990.
Blochmann, H.1977.The Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazl (edited translation, revised by D.C. Phillott),
Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, New Delhi, Volume I, 1977, pp. 15-16.
Habib, Muhammad 1937. The Campaigns of Alauddin Khilji: Khazainul Futuh or Treasures of
Victory - of Hazrat Amir Khusrau - translated and ed. by Muhammad Habib, D.B. Taraporevala
and Sons, Bombay, 1937.
King, W. 1872. On the Kadapah and Karnul Formations in the Madras Presidency, Memoirs
Geological Survey of India, 8, 1, 1872.
Munn, Leonard . 1929. The Golkonda Diamond Mines, The Journal Hyderabad Geological
Society 1, 1, 1929, pp. 21-62.

Forms of Life in the World of Mattar: Reflections on Tribal Cosmology By Baidyanath Saraswati

The following reflections are based on tribal myths of north-east India.1 Myth2 may be defined as a body of revelatory knowledge of the unseen reality that flows eternally in time and space. As a self-reflective and self-validating statement of the true nature of the phenomenal world, it is founded in faith that supports all knowledge. Myth, believed and lived from inside, expresses the believers’ conviction of truth. It is not an empirical description of the natural phenomena; it is a symbolic expression of the experience of the mystery of cosmic existence.
The Fivefold Order
Tribal cosmogony refers to a fivefold order that sets forth the timeless sequence of creation, preservation and dissolution of the world of matter. Let us discover its fundamental intuition.
First Order is set in ‘nothingness’: In the beginning there was nothing, nothing at all but water, or clouds and mist, or two eggs soft and shone like gold.3 In that state of ‘nothingness’, life was there above the primeval water, hidden deep in the clouds and mist, or in the two whirling eggs.
With such vibration of life, the beginning was not an absolute vacuity.
Second Order causes primary creation of elements from the element of the First Order.
The First creation was asexual: The golden eggs collided and both broke open. From the one came the earth, from the other the sky.4 Subsequently, creation became a male-female principle: When the sky made love to earth, every kind of tree, grass and all living creatures came into being.5
The world was created in phases by a number of vibrant bodies and not by a single creator: The order of creation began with the formless spirits,6 and then the sun-moon7 and all the rest. At first there were two or four or eight or nine suns of an unbearable brightness. The radiance of one of them was gradually reduced to the cool and gentle light of the moon.8
The early phases of creation were marked by total integration of all that exists; there was no difference between man and non-man.9
Every element has its own life. Elements of nature are interrelated.10
What activates or transforms matter is the transcendent life, but life itself is not matter.
Third Order causes natural identity and differentiation in terms of colour, direction and form. Smell is another element of the Third Order. It makes communication between the form and the formless possible.11
Fourth Order causes the return to primordial state: Water is the self-existing element from which all other elements originate and to which they all return.12
Dissolution is a process of regeneration or rejuvenation, not chaos or disorder.
Fifth Order is the order of all orders: It creates the scenario of the world in which everything has its proper place, and everything grows and allows others to grow. It is inviolable.
Cosmic Intelligence revealed itself: The universal knowability lay in the cosmic eggs. Priests of all creatures were born at the beginning of creation.13 Primordial knowledge came to man from birds and animals.14
Not a single event takes place without any cause. As there is a cause, so there is an effect or viceversa. Cause can be found, but not under ordinary condition. Through rituals one may return to the primordial conditions of life represented in such form as an egg (unmanifest), cowrie-shell (manifest water), hen (manifest earth) and rice (life-maintaining substance) to determine the cause.15
Consciousness is created by Cosmic Intelligence (Hiranyagarbha). Patterns of cultures are derivative expressions of cosmic forms.
The Pluriverse
This world of matter is continuous with the other world or worlds. There are also transition zones filled by primordial water.16
Life in this world is repeated in the other world, in a similar order.17 Worlds are communicable.18
Of the other worlds some are structured up in the sky, and others down below the earth.19 Earth is the axis mundi of the pluriverse.
The Same Life But Different Forms
Four operant ideas emerge from tribal cosmogony: (i) That life, as primal energy, manifests itself from ‘nothingness’ and is hence indestructible; (ii) that forms of the primordial elements such as water, fire, earth, sky and air are predetermined, and they in turn determine the form of the creatures of the Second Order; (iii) that life is the source of origin of all, but forms are different; and (iv) that the reality of the subtler plane is responsible for the grosser plane.
Transcendental creation is the primal process of bringing the form and the life together. Life is self-existent, and hence indestructible; forms are predetermined. Both are intrinsically related.
The predetermined forms of species are filled by matter, that is, primal elements of earth, water, sky, etc. Each form is thus a microcosm.
Form is natured by life; but life itself is formless. By entering into a form, life acquires qualitative distinctions in terms of species or form.20 The same life is called by different names.21
There are stages in the formless existence of life.22 What retains the breath of life in man, animal and other creatures is the same; it is often identified as soul or spirit.
The physical form, or the state of matter, can alone be seen growing, weathering and converting into new forms. But the behaviour of life during its transcendental transformation as a formless substance cannot be empirically verified. Transition in matter does not cause transition in life. What happens in the situation is the translocation of life from one form to another and from form to the formless or vice versa.23 The same life may concurrently be present in two forms.24
As a substance, life gives expressions to different forms of matter. In a formless state it performs wide ranging functions: Formation (creation), affirmation (preservation) and negation (dissolution) of elements.
The following may be taken as proper annotation for tribal viewpoint on forms of life in the world of matter.
A fivefold order governs the cosmos.
In the beginning there was nothing. The primal ‘nothingness’ was not an absolute vacuity: As thought comes from the unthought, the manifest comes from the unmanifest. The unmanifest encompasses the vibration of life.
The first principle of the cosmos is "one-two-and many". Creation was originally asexual, but subsequently it became a male-female principle. There is no single creator. A creature becomes creator of another creature. This interrelatedness of creature-creator makes the cosmos the one undifferentiated reality. The world came into existence in phases. The early phases were characterized by total integration of all elements. Creation causes differentiations; dissolution is the return to primordial state of undifferentiation. There is no intrinsic disorder in nature.
The world of matter is continuous with the other world or worlds. Earth is the axis mundi of the pluriverse. Source of life is not matter, but what activates, or transforms, matter is life. Life is self-existing and self-expressing; forms are predetermined and transitory. Both are intrinsically related. Transcendent life is the cause; form its effect. Matter fills the form but form itself is not matter. Life expresses the unity of all; but forms are different. The same life exists in a formless state as also in many different forms.
Tribal epistemological thought is characterized by the assumption that patterns of life and culture are derivative expressions of the cosmic forms.
1. Cosmogenic myths discussed in this presentation are taken from Elwin (1968).
2. Panikkar (1983) has set standard for hermeneutic interpretation of myth. My own initial understanding of myth has come largely from his works, but he is in no way responsible for any unclarity that one may find in the present formulation.
3. Cf. Elwin, op. cit. 9-24, see specially the myths of Bori, Hill Miri, Khampti, Nockte, Singpho, and Hrusso (Aka).
4. Ibid., 17, see Hrusso (Aka) myth.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., 20, see Nocte myth.
7. Ibid., 40-63, see Dhammai (Miji), Idu Mishmi, Kawan Mishmi, Singpho myths.
8. Ibid., 48, 50, 59, 62.
9. There are many stories of marriage of human beings with gods, spirits, animals (real animals, not human beings in disguise or under enchantment) as well as leaves, trees and even fire. Ibid., 108-48. Thus in tribal perception, man is not unique in his origin.
10. The earth and sky are a divine couple and a universal parent. Fire and whirlwind are brothers just as water and mist are brothers. But water and fire have always been enemies. Wind is the friend of fire against water and he fights the rain and drives it before him. (Saraswati, 1992).
11. The medium of interaction between the Ongees and the spirit world is the smell, kept in the ancestral bone which the Ongees wear as an ornament. It is the smell that keeps the Ongees in the island and the spirits in the sky and the sea. (Pandya, 1991).
12. Cf. Elwin, op. cit. 15-22, see Gallong, Sherdukpen, Taraon Mishmi, Singpho.
13. The Dafla myth reveals that Tarangum Sung Sung was the ancestor of all priests. There are priests of men, priests of the earth, priests of god and spirits, and priests of tigers and all animals. Ibid., 76.
14. Ibid., 105 (Hill Miri), 213 (Wancho, Singpho, Bori). Tribal myths deny the uniqueness of man in the possession of knowledge.
15. When a Khasi suffers any affliction, he performs his rituals with the aid of Ka Shanam (cowries, rice grains, an egg, or a hen) to find out the cause of affliction (Mawrie, 1981: 32).
16. The Ao Nagas believe that there is the world of the dead souls (Asuyim). In between the world of the dead and the world of the living there is a boundary line. The boundary line is a river called Longritzu (bitter water). (Ao, 1980: 64). Miris also believe that their world is not the only one. Other worlds are known to exist and their limits are determined (Hamilton, 1912: 87). Hindu scriptures mention the pluriverse. There are five worlds (Loka) up in the sky with Brahmaloka as the highest, earth in the middle, and seven netherworlds inhabited by demons and serpent-spirits.
17. According to the Ao Nagas, life in the village of the dead is like life on the earth, except that in the village of the dead there is no sexual intercourse and no social organization (Ao, op. cit., 65). The Apa Tanis make the two worlds similar, even in conjugal and occupational contexts. In the world of the dead called Neli, every woman returns to her first husband, but those who died unmarried may there marry and beget children. Life in Neli is similar to life on this earth: people cultivate and work, and ultimately they die once more and go to another land of the dead. (Furer-Haimendorf, 1953: 37). Tribal eschatology reveals that the ontological experience of life and death is the same. Death brings to man only a new existence. The errant soul moves on in the cosmos from one abode to another.
18. Khasis believe that in the days when righteousness prevailed there was a tree which served as ladder to the original sixteen families for their communication between heaven and earth. This tree grew on top of U Lum Sohpetbneng (the navel peak of the heaven) which is the centre of the world. This tree formed the golden bridge ensuring physical contact between man and god till the time when transgression became the order of the day and this bridge gave way. Thus destroying the communication link between heaven and earth (Mawrie, op. cit., 33-34).
19. Among the Nagas there is a belief that if one leads a good and worthy life upon the earth after his death his soul (Mangla) fly away into the realms above, to a higher place of life and becomes a star (Horam, 1980: 60). There is a common belief all over India that the hell is located beneath the earth.
20. The Nagas believe that the soul does not die with the death of his body. If a man has led a bad life he has to pass through seven stages of spirit-life and ultimately transformed into insects like bees, locusts and butterflies (Ibid.). The same life but different forms and formless stages.
21. What retains the breath of life in man and other creatures is called by various names (Yalo, Aith, Lumpu, Mangla) which may be placed in the category of soul.
22. According to the Hill Miri, when a man dies his ‘soul’, the Yalo, is carried away by the Wiyu, (spirit) who has caused his death. The Yalo retains, or resumes, the human shape of a different order after it has left the Wiyu’s house and made its way to the land of the Dead when it becomes an Orum or ghost. (Elwin, op. cit., 303).
23. After death, man’s life may assume the form of animal or birds or insects. In a formless state, the same life may exist as soul or spirit of various kinds.
24. In the Naga villages some men are believed to have the soul of a tiger. If the tiger is wounded the man who possesses the soul of that tiger also gets wounded instantly and no sooner the tiger dies the soul of that man departs. Whatever happens to man also happens to the tiger with a common soul. (Personal communication from my Naga students).
Ao, P.J., (1980). "The ‘Here-After’; Traditional Ao Nagas", In Religion and Society of North-East India, (ed.). Sujata Miri, New Delhi.
Elwin, Verrier, (1968). Myths of the North-East Frontier of India, Shillong.
Furer-Haimendorf, C. von, (1953). "The after-life in Indian Belief". In Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LXXIII: 37.
Hamilton, Angus, (1912). In Abor Jungles.
Horam, M., (1980). "Naga Religion: a Case Study", In Religion and Society of North East India, (ed.) Sujata Miri, New Delhi.
Mawrie, H.O., (1981). The Khasi Milieu, New Delhi.
Pandya, Vishvajit, (1991). "Tribal Cosmology: Displacing and Replacing Process in Andamanese Places", In Tribal Thought and Culture: Essays in Honour of Shri Surajit Chandra Sinha, (ed.) Baidyanath Saraswati, New Delhi.
Panikkar, R., (1983). Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics: Cross-Cultural Studies, Bangalore.
Saraswati, Baidyanath, (1992). "Cosmogenic Myths and the Forces of Nature", Paper presented at the seminar on Perception of Bhutas (Elements) in Oral Tradition. IGNCA, New Delhi.

Decolonising History

Alvares, Claude. 1991. Decolonising History: Technology and Culture in India, China and the West, 1492 to the Present Day. Goa: The Other India Press, India.
‘I have never found one amongst them [the orientalists] who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgment used at preparatory schools in England.’
--Minute of Lord Macaulay on the 2nd of February 1835
This obnoxious statement may incite a murderous response in a young reader today, but the fact remains that the British in particular and the West in general did denigrate the East, its culture and scientific legacy. The worst part is that quite a few Indians too believe such blatant condemnation of the Indian legacy. Western Science created hegemonic categories of science vs magic, technology vs superstition etc., which were both arbitrary and contrived. Prabably the Western model initially gained momentum of its own accord within a particular socio-cultural environment, but Alvares endeavours to show that in time it was deliberately used to betray,
exploit and demolish other systems. The nature of the Western mind was thought to be disposed to logic and consistency, while the primitive mind floated easily in contradictions and was generally more emotional and childish, and so forth. They taught that non-literate peoples in Southern countries possessed something like a "primitive mentality", that was not merely different from, but inferior to its Western counterpart.
But today a lot of new facts are coming out which show how the West plagiarized Indian traditional science and called it its own. Even the botanical taxonomy was essentially based on Ezhwa traditional knowledge, but no Western scientist ever refers to the contributions of Itty Achuden to the now famous Hortus Malabaricus. As our main concern is History of Indian Science and Technology, Claude Alvares’ book under review thus assumes great relevance. He relentlessly exposes the claims of the West of its superiority and brings out the fact that till the advent of the British in India, it was a far richer and scientifically superior a country than the West. His book is an eye opener and a must for all interested in understanding the achinations of the British in condemning our great achievements of the past.
Alvares very forcefully debunks the claims of the West that extols the virtues of the Western mind and civilization and denigrates those of the Indian and the Chinese. He quotes from the offensive claims made by Macaulay in 1835. Macaulay condemned outright the intellectual and scientific legacy of India, to introduce the Western model of education system.
Alvares explains how the West succeeded not only in denigrating the Oriental science and culture but also the self-esteem of the Indians. Alvares quotes extensively from the works of the renowned Ghandhian and historian of science, Dharampal, as to how advanced the Indian science and technology was before the advent of the British. He exposes the claims of the Western Industrial Revolution, which made its poor people poorer. The British could survive only by making its people work for 12 hours a day and by making the women and children also work in the factories. Alvares explodes the myth of the European Homo Faber. Above all, Alvares debunks the false claims of the West that the Indian mind was merely saturated with spirituality. He refutes this claim by highlighting the achievements of ancient Indian agriculture,industry and medicine etc.
Alvares goes to the extent of even accusing liberal scholars such as Karl Marx, Needham, and Peter Gayle of belittling Indian achievements in science and technology.
Rajini Kothari, the famed sociologist, pays a profound tribute to the importance of the book when he says, “It is an ambitious undertaking though not modestly carried out. A political battle that is intellectually waged.”
Countries and nations around the world during the latter half of the 20th century saw uprisings against the colonial regimes and their gradual collapse resulting in the creation of independent, sovereign states. The colonial domination had uprooted the very foundations of these nations and while they revelled in their newfound independence they realised they had a very low faith in what remained of their identity. The rapid advancement of the West allured them and they looked up to the West as a model for their own rapid advancement. Apparently, with the socialist
and communist models earlier providing alternatives to the Western model ran out of steam at a time when the new nations and peoples contemplated making quick progress. At such a time the West alone stood out as an unchallenged alternative for speedy development. In his book Claude Alvares points out that this limitation of a choice for a model on a part of the world was exploited opportunistically by the West to further its own interests. The adoption of the Western model, whatever may have been its achievements, necessitated a disregard of traditions and bypassing the socio-economic conditions peculiar to the countries that adopted the model. In time it was realised that for most of the developing countries the adoption of the Western model
was a misguided approach. India too, which had taken to the Western model, realised its mistake after its independence by its Sixth Plan, during the 1970s.
Technology and culture on the one hand influence development and on the other are themselvesaffected by development. Claude Alvares in his book explores the impact of the Western interpretation of technology and culture, and its emerging impact on the developing countries.
Rajni Kothari, an eminent Indian sociologist, in his foreword to this book says, ‘the relevance of this book goes beyond its scholastic title. It sheds light on and sets in perspective the large questions of our time, questions of both theory and human choice. It is an attempt to relate the basic anthropological concern regarding the nature of man and the predicament that faces him, the role of technology in defining this in our time, the dominant cultural paradigm underlying such a relationship between technology and human destiny, and the political processes through which this relationship and its transmission of a particular culture are sought to be legitimised and challenged in our time.’ Kothari says that most of the current debates on technology, development and international order are reflected in the analysis presented here. The ecological crisis and the role of Western technology in it are spelt out vigorously. The theme that it is not merely technology that is at fault but also the meaning and direction given to it by the cultural paradigm of the modern West is pointed out. The author is aware of the central importance of the politics of technological choices and the international and global structuring thereof. He is at the same time unsparing of the elite and intelligentsia of the Third World for their falling prey to such choices and in the process ravaging their lands and exploiting their peoples. He further says
that this book points to the necessity of rejecting the Western pretence of universalism and for non-Western cultures to seek answers to their problems ‘within’. This is a perspective that is beginning to be widely shared. Among other things, it can enable man to transcend the extreme parochialism of Western science and its so-called objectivity, a myth that the author explodes quite ably.
Claude Alvares has divided the book into seven chapters, along with an after-word. The first chapter is - A New Anthropological Model. The second and the third chapters look closely at the Indian and the Chinese Technology and Culture while the fourth discusses the English Technology and Culture. In the fifth chapter Alvares looks at the Technology, Culture and the
Empire in the Colonial Age; in the sixth chapter the renewal of the Chinese and Indian technology and culture are covered. Finally, the seventh chapter evaluates the logic of appropriate technology.
Since Alvares is concerned with the plight of the people, their cultures, communities and their development on account of the politics of the West, he introduces the subject matter under the sub-titles, The Politics of Anthropology, The Politics of Political Science, The Politics of Psychology, The Poor as scapegoats, and The Survival Engineer. The introduction part of the book is very important for it exposes the subject matter at a macro level, which is then elaborated upon in later chapters with particular examples of the Indian and Chinese situations. It may have been that the Western model initially gained momentum of its own accord within a particular socio-cultural environment, but Alvares endeavours to show that in time it was deliberately used to betray, exploit and demolish other systems.
Alvares is critical of the anthropologists and says that when they documented faithfully the ways of life of an alien community, they did it within a framework of mind that located the community at a level lower than the one on which they themselves, as a member of Western culture, stood and lived. Such a situation favoured the proliferation of comfortable myths, the most persistent one of which taught that non-literate peoples in Southern countries possessed something like a
‘primitive mentality’, that was not merely different from, but inferior to its Western counterpart.
This ‘primitive mentality’, the myth noted, was highly concrete, while the Western mind was more ‘abstract’. The former was also supposed to connect its ideas by rote association, while the latter used general relations. Further, the nature of the Western mind was thought to be disposed to logic and consistency, while the primitive mind floated easily in contradictions and was generally more emotional and childish, and so forth. By 1830, the British had acquired, in what was to become a completely European century, a flattering notion of the nature of their own
civilization, and a thoroughgoing contempt of every other. In India itself, this new attitude found expression in the infamous Minute of Lord Macaulay on the 2nd of February 1835:
‘I have never found one amongst them [the orientalists] who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgment used at preparatory schools in England.’
Macaulay advised that the Board of Public Instruction would be wasting public funds should it print books of Indian learning "which are of less value than the paper on which they are printed was while it was blank", and that the artificial ncouragement to "absurd history, absurd metaphysics, absurd physics, absurd theology" would end in the raising of a "breed of scholars, who live on the public while they are receiving their education, and whose education is so utterly useless to them that, when they have received it, they must either starve or live on the public all
the rest of their lives". Alvares says that little did Macaulay realize that it would be precisely the English system he introduced that would produce the "breed of scholars" so characteristic of India and the other Southern nations today - the educated unemployed. He points out that the Dutch historian, Peter Geyl, had no different view of these matters. Even Marx, we are told, seemed to hold similar views as he said that England had to fulfil a double mission in India: one
destructive, the other regenerating - the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundations of Western society in Asia. Marx went on to emphasize how the British were breaking up the village community, uprooting handicraft industry, and establishing private property in land, which he termed "the great desideratum of Indian society". This in the view of Alvares was the politics of anthropology that belittled the people who were non-Western or non-European. Even Needham put this sarcastically when he said, ‘European music was music, all
other music anthropology’. The study of white men even was a separate science called
sociology; anthropology covered the rest. A hundred years later, Peter Drucker, the godfather ofthe global corporation was still theorizing along similar lines. In one of his not so well known books, The Landmarks of Tomorrow, he urged his readers to face the new reality of the collapse of the East, that is, of non-Western culture and civilization, to the point where no viable society anywhere could be built except on Western foundations.
The end of the Second World War was followed by the rise of a fresh generation of states and by the time the world had entered the fifties a growing concern with the phenomena of ‘backwardness and underdevelopment’ had come to the fore. Walt Rostow, in one of the most influential books of the decade to follow, set out to argue the credibility of the prescriptions given by the American experts for the development of the underdeveloped. Actually, as is now well known, Rostow's book The Stages of Economic Growth was not concerned at all with the ‘backwardness’ of the new states, but formed part of a tactic designed to aid Dulles against Khrushchev in competing for the allegiance of these nations, still uncommitted to either of the
two power blocks. Rostow argued that the key to successful development lay not with the Soviet Union, but with the West, it was therefore in the interests of the non-aligned nations to jump on the Western bandwagon.
It would take another fifteen years before scholars would isolate the fundamental deficiencies of Rostow's model. By the time the critique had been accomplished, the economic and industrial elements of the Western paradigm, in so far as they might have had significance for the new nations, had lost their great appeal. By then the serious flirtation on the part of the industrializing nations with the model had resulted in a powerful current of dismay, disillusion, and disappointment. Western scholars had been equally busy constructing similar, only more bizarre, models and disseminating slanted advice. The model presented by these scholars on a platter, so
to speak, was again a distinctly Western one: formal democracy in combination with a
rationalized bureaucracy. The new states should attain this goal, since it represented the ‘summit’ of political development. New states not yet incorporated within the model were to be termed ‘traditional’ or better still ‘transitional’ that is, still undergoing the throes of modernization. W.F. Wertheim exposed their political implications and pointed out that the chief exponent of the school, Daniel Lerner, was guilty of extreme ethnocentrism in identifying the traits of modernity with those of the American society. It is not difficult to prove that the godfathers of the gospel of modernization, including Lerner, S.N. Lipset, and Karl Deutsch, were influenced in their studies and policy recommendations concerning the Southern nations by categories and historical possibilities fashioned in their own context.
There is a more serious criticism Alvares levels against the modernizers, available to us in the writings of the Indian political scientist, Rajni Kothari. Kothari said that the mode of development presented under the generalized package of the ‘modernization’ process, undermined, in one continent after another, national independence in real terms, in the name of economic development. Alvares therefore says that the consequences of such an empty, context free model of modernization had indeed been disastrous. It had produced an economic, bureaucratic, and technocratic elite intimately tied to the metropolitan areas of the world, treating the vast rural hinterlands in its own countries as colonies that provided cheap food and raw
materials and surplus labour (and markets for inferior industrial products and obsolete industrial machines); an elite that had achieved high economic status at the expense of large numbers of people huddled in the ‘countryside’, and in the process lost both its independence and its social conscience. Alvares says that in the ultimate analysis, there is absolutely no reason for restricting the models of modernity and the processes and sequences of modernization to the experience of
the Western nations. If, however, we continue to do so, we are open to the charge that we are subduing vast and varied societies of the world to the totalitarianism of a single historical pattern.
History might pattern itself on the past, but there is no reason why it should pattern itself on the Western past merely because the Western nations realized urbanization and literacy before political democracy.
Alvares says that when all these theories of evolution, anthropology, political science and psychology dismally failed as prescriptions for development and confounded the Westerns as to how the miracles could have bypassed the backward nations, they obviously looked around for a scapegoat. He says it would have been glaringly impolite to put the burden on the white man and, on the other hand, it would have been quite embarrassing to accuse those governments of failing to address the issues. So the only scapegoats left were the low income groups, including
the landless labourers, the small farmers, the unemployed craftsmen and so on. And since these could be depended upon not to react or return the attack, experts and governments set about the task with a will. In literature, he says it was Gunnar Myrdal who lent some sanction to the stereotype of the poor man as being mostly passive, apathetic and inarticulate. That the tide of false perceptions did not abate says Alvares is evident in the population control measures exported to the developing countries. He puts it sarcastically that a variant of that legendary
Marie Antoinette proposal has become the order of the day: if they have no bread, let them swallow pills. The subtitle ‘the survival engineer’ is an ode to the poor, traditional and yet not modernised or perhaps Westernised human being. It is towards the cause of the insecure groups around the world that this book is written in which Alvares exposes the ominous designs of the West against the poor. The economically insecure man in the Southern nations is engaged in the task of survival, but this time, primary survival. Considering the range of odds against which he must struggle and his experience thus far in using all his wits about him to remain alive, he
comes very close to being an engineer par excellence. The technology he uses is not invented for the maximization of profit; it is, instead, a survival technology, an expression used by Dutch philosopher K wee Swan-Liat. Fully half the population of today's world are survival technicians; they do not exploit the Western echnological system. They are craftsmen of necessity.
Alvares quotes Joseph Needham in the very first chapter, which could well be taken as gist of the entire chapter. Needham said, ‘for three thousand years a dialogue has been going on between the two ends of the Old World. Greatly have they influenced each other, and very different are the cultures they have produced. We have now good reason to think that the problems of the world will never be solved so long as they are considered only from a European point of view. It is necessary to see Europe from the outside, to see European history, and European failure no
less than European achievement, through the eyes of that larger part of humanity, the peoples of Asia (and indeed also of Africa).’
Alvares begins by objecting to the use of the word Homo faber, ‘Man the maker’ in the West, which has found wide acceptance around the world. Carlyle called man a tool-using animal and Benjamin Franklin called him a tool-making animal. Alvares thinks that it all goes on to show the obsession with technology which has wrongly been suggested as a faculty that separates and distinguishes man from the whole range of animals. It seems that here Alvares is trying to challenge a very important and a fundamental assumption in relation to man. It is wrong to presume that biological development of man preceded the beginning of culture. Geertz has been
able to show with evidence based on archaeological and palaeontological records that the greater part of human cortical expansion followed, not preceded, the beginning of culture. In other words, it makes more sense to believe that ‘culture was ingredient’, and that too central1y ingredient, in the production of the human animal, rather than to think of it in terms of being added on, so to speak, to a finished or nearly finished animal. And by culture, Geertz has in mind
much more than the mere perfection of tools. It also includes the adoption of organized hunting and gathering practices, the beginnings of true family organization, the discovery of fire, and the increasing reliance upon systems of significant symbols (language, art, myth, ritual) for orientation, communication, and self-control.
The Dutch historian of technology, R. J.Forbes was one of the first historians of technology to conclude that technology was the work of mankind as a whole, and that no part of the world can claim to be more innately gifted than any other part. Yet, Alvares says that, for the past fifteen decades, particularly during the last three, the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America were told a different version of the story. They were taught, directly and indirectly, to compare their technological systems in terms of the Western production system, and to define themselves and
their cultures in relation to a particularized philosophical anthropology. Every aspect of the life of their societies was then compared, judged, or assessed in terms of what obtained in the West.
Alvares says that the wrong notion that the Western technology is the only viable model has been extensively projected in books, journals and research works which identify science and technology with the science and technology of the West. Thus, Alvares says that our preoccupation with the Western technology has resulted in more attention being paid by the new nations to transplanting elements of the Western technological system instead of updating their own indigenous ones. So in the chapter where Alvares objects to the use of the word Homo fabre, since it excludes the animals who are in many cases better creators than man, he also proposes to have a new model where Homo fabre does not only stand for the Western white man
but also includes the African Homo fabre, the Chinese and the Indian Homo fabre as well.
The second chapter looks into the Indian technology and culture. At the very beginning Alvares concedes that so great a quantity of paper and print has been devoted to Indian philosophy and art, and so pervasive is the opinion abroad that these aspects of the Indian mind have remained saturated with "spirituality" and "world-denying" tendencies, that it has seemed but natural to conclude that technology or material culture could not have been attended to in the measure
desired. To counter this Alvares studies the Indian technology under the subheads of Indian agriculture, Indian Industry, Indian medicine and lastly discusses the mind of the Indians. He cites the case of Dr. Wallick, a superintendent of the East India Company, who told the English Commons Committee that the Europeans out of India had in a great measure misunderstood the husbandry of Bengal. The Bengali husbandry, although in many respects extremely simple and primeval in its mode and form, was not so low as people generally supposed it to be. He found that very sudden improvements in them have never led to any good results. He said, “I have known, for instance of European iron ploughs introduced into Bengal with a view of superseding
the extremely tedious and superficial turning of the ground by a common Bengali plough. But what has been the result? That the soil which is extremely superficial, as I took the liberty of mentioning before, which was intended to be torn up, has generally received the admixture of the under soil, which has deteriorated it very much.” He has put on record that he was asked whether
the techniques could be improved. He had answered it in the negative.
We are told that in 1820 Colonel Alexander Walker had prepared a more comprehensive report on the agriculture of Malabar and Gujarat. Alvares quotes him extensively and says that the entire report may be found in Dharampal's Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century. Walker wrote that in a climate where the productive powers were so great, it was only necessary to put the seed a little way into the ground. It must be a strong proof that the Indian plough was not ill adapted for its purpose when it was seen arising out of the furrows it cut, for
the most abundant and luxurious crops. What could be desired more than that? The labour and expense beyond that point must have been seen as superfluous. The Indian peasant was commonly well enough informed as to his interest, and he was generally intelligent and reflecting. He was attached to his own modes, because they were easy and useful; but furnished him with instruction and means, and he would adopt them, provided they got him his profit.
Alvares cites extensive paragraphs from these reports, which go on to show the crops, farming practices and irrigation methods used by the Indian farmer.
Next to agriculture, cotton and cotton goods constituted the principal industry in the Indian subcontinent, as did the woollen industry in England. Up to 1800, no country produced a greater abundance or variety of textiles in the world than India and that too with most simple of tools.
China remained the only close rival. In 1700 itself, India was the largest exporter of textiles in the world. Here Alvares quotes Dubois:
“With such simple tools the patient Hindu, can produce specimens of work, which are often not to be distinguished from those I imported at great expense from foreign countries.”
Alvares says that the world today cannot understand production except in terms of high-energy inputs, complex machines and processes, and massive organisations. But foreign travellers to India one after the other remarked on the perfection of the manufacture and the simplicity of the tools. Alvares tells us that the loom provided the basis of the Indian industry, particularly in the eighteenth century. It provided employment to ‘hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, comprising the weaver caste’ and to ‘countless widows’ and families, who engaged themselves in the
subsidiary processes of cotton spinning. The weaving industry itself was extensive, stretching from ‘the banks of the Ganges to the Cape’. ‘On the coast of Coromandel and in the province of Bengal, when at some distance from the high road or a principal town, it is difficult to find a village in which every man, woman or child is not employed in making a piece of cloth.’
The fact is that the textile industry was highly coordinated with agriculture. It was usually when the crops were growing or had just been harvested, that one found a great number of villagers applying themselves to the loom, ‘so that more silk and cotton was manufactured in Bengal than in thrice the same extent of country throughout the empire and consequently at much cheaper rates’. In the north, the great Moghuls maintained kharkhanas (factories) for their specific needs.
Elsewhere, native princes preserved their own arrangements. And one economist has noted how this constant source of employment declined and withered as the princes fell prey to the machinations of British power. Surat, an emporium of foreign commerce, manufactured the finest Indian brocades, the richest silk stuffs of all kinds, calicoes and muslins. The woollen industry was situated in Kashmir, which produced the extraordinary cashmere shawls, whose beauty was considerably ‘enhanced by the introduction of flower work’. The wool was imported from Tibet, after which it was bleached and manufactured. As for silks, in Western India, fabrics from them were often mixed with cotton. Printed silk, culgar is still produced in the same places today as in those times, in the form of saris of artificial, printed silk or kalgers. One species of cotton and silk fabrics consisted of alachas, striped fabrics, later consciously imitated in England. The cuttanee was a satin weave; the cheapest of the mixed fabrics were called tepseils, produced for the West African trade. And for the Portuguese demand, there were silk and wool fabrics, called camboolees, produced in Sind.
Talking of the Indian industry how could one forget the mention of iron and steel produced in India. Dharampal observes, there are a number of accounts concerning the production of iron and steel in India during the Vasco da Gama epoch. There were other centres during the Iron Age where steel was produced by holding wrought iron in the charcoal of the forge until it reached white heat and then quenching it, but the resulting product did not reach Celtic standards. The latter itself, however, was not as good as the so-called Damascus steel, the only true spring steel known before the Age of Gunpowder. And this steel was made in India as early as the 5th or 6th centuries B.C. in the Hyderabad district by smiths through a process of fusion known as wootz. By the 1790s, a sample of Indian wootz had landed in England, where it roused considerable scientific and technical interest. It was examined by several experts and found it in general to match with the best steel available in England. People also found this steel excellently adapted for the purpose of fine cutlery, and particular for all edged instruments used for surgical purposes. Demand increased, so that 18 years later, one frequent user could write:
“I have at this time a liberal supply of wootz, and I intend to use it for many purposes. If a better steel is offered to me, I will gladly attend to it; but the steel of India is decidedly the best I have yet met with.”
The founder of the Indian Iron and Steel Company, J .M. Heath, soon discovered that the Indian method of wootz making lasted two hours and a half, while the processes at Sheffield required four hours.
The literature on Indian medicine is enormous, rich and various. Alvares in this book describes two of the more important medical arts of India, plastic surgery and inoculations against smallpox. Both were indigenously evolved. However Alvares concedes that he has left out a number of other technical processes used by the Indians before and, during the colonial period, including the making of paper, ice, armaments, the breeding of animals, horticultural techniques, and others. Such industries have been described in detail by Dharampal, whose Collected Works
Claude Alvares has helped to reprint.
Alvares maintains that Indian science and technology should not be construed as constituting the total interpretation of the Indian Homo faber paradigm alone. For the technology of India can be related to other aspects of an Indian philosophy, or an Indian mind and his experience of the world.
The third chapter of the book is devoted to the consideration of the Chinese technology and culture where Alvares says that the Western influence on the Chinese mind has had its effects and even Chinese scholars, educated in Western universities, have not been able to refrain from manipulating Chinese history to reinforce conclusions reached earlier by frankly ideological means. At least their activities are intelligible in the light of almost total devaluation of the role
of the intellectual in the life of modern China. Thus, the late Lin Yutang, born and raised in China, but with his spirit moulded in the United States, was ready to confess in 1937 a complete lack of confidence in the regenerative powers of his own people. He opined that China then was undeniably the most incoherent and chaotic nation on earth, the most dramatically weak and impotent, the most incapable of rising up and marching ahead, while in the West, attention was principally diverted to nature, and the natural sciences were developed earlier and further than the human sciences. In China, man formed the focus of both theory and practice. If in the West man saw himself as able to dominate nature, the Chinese refused that attitude, instead placing man not merely as central, but also as an integral part of nature.
Alvares discusses Chinese history and philosophy through Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism in the book. He says that Needham is quite fond of constantly repeating his claim that, ‘Chinese science and technology were very much more advanced than those of Europe between the third century B.C. and the fifteenth century AD Renaissance in Europe.’
The English Technology and Culture have been taken up by Alvares in the fourth chapter. He begins by maintaining that contrary to all that has been written on the subject, Europe did not produce the industrial revolution -- Britain alone did. He quotes Forbes, which is quite relevant and might come to us as a surprise for in our imagination we are prone to think that the Industrial
Revolution in England took place all of a sudden. Forbes wrote: ‘The Industrial Revolution was by no means as sudden as is often claimed or as revolutionary as some have believed. It had its roots in the important technological changes of the 16th century, although it did not gain momentum until about 1800. From a social point of view, however, the changes during the period from 1730 to 1880, dramatic in their strange medley of good and evil, often tragic in their combination of material progress and social suffering, might indeed be described as revolutionary.’
Alvares says that an agricultural revolution preceded or ran simultaneously with the industrial revolution. A more thorough scrutiny of the agricultural scene at this early date will lead to the conclusion that the word ‘revolution’, when seen from the angle of technological development, exaggerates the extent of the changes involved. It is pointed out that the ‘official’ dates demarcating the period of the revolution are 1760 and 1830. However, the most important innovations concerned resource changes, and these came much before 1760. No industrial revolution would have been possible without them. By the 1830s, the handloom weavers had been reduced to a wage of less than a penny an hour. They were able to keep alive only when
their children and wives joined in the factories. The application of steam power to looms gradually undermined their independence and their number. They did not give up easily, but they had to in the end, provoking Ashton to term the period one of the most depressing chapters in the economic history of the time. If convicts had been compelled to work a twelve-hour a day as part of their punishment, in jails, it would have provoked a humanitarian outcry. Yet the twelve-hour working day in factories had been established on commercial grounds - and not just as the norm
but also as the minimum! It was this, rather than the cruelty involved, which was the most hideous aspect of the factory system. It imprisoned men, women and children for so much of their lives. The mill-owners did not deny the cruelty. They merely found the discussion about it irrelevant. In their opinion, the factory worker was better off. He was enjoying a standard of living higher than he otherwise could have hoped for, especially if his lot were compared to a century earlier when there had been no factories. In 1834, Jean de Sismondi, though accepting the fact that machinery had vastly increased England's productive potential, and had made
fortunes for many employers enabling England to become the foremost trading nation in the world, made it known that all of it had been built up only at the expense of the worker. The Industrial Revolution brought the majority of the population of England to face a situation where the total adaptation of their lives to the rigours of a new productive system became a virtual necessity. Thus, if we have the majority poor in mind it seems that the English society had to pay for increased production of basic subsistence items by undergoing a worsening of cultural, social, and environmental conditions during at least a part of the nineteenth century. Alvares
emphasises that he has observed that people only accepted the rigours of industrial life in the hope of improving their subsistence; but in the bargain they suffered severe cultural, social, and environmental deprivation - they came to living on bread alone. Poverty in one sphere was exchanged for poverty in others. New needs sprang up because of the changed life-styles. The old methods of satisfying human needs were destroyed or rendered obsolete. There were undoubtedly many aspects of the pre-industrial way of life, which were especially satisfactory, and it was only after the disruption of this way of life that people experienced some particularly
pressing needs outside the sphere of traditional subsistence. The question is not whether, in the final analysis, pre-industrial primitive societies could not enjoy some of the goods of modern life, rather one should ask whether pre-industrial populations would have been prepared to work the long, tedious hours for these goods and services.
In the final analysis, Alvares says that it does appear from what he has observed thus far that rich societies are less rich and poor societies less poor than has been hitherto imagined. Therefore he suggests that the words ‘developed’ and ‘rich’ be dropped when describing the industrial nations, and that the adjective ‘sick’ might do a better job!
While looking into the technology, culture and empire in the colonial age in the fifth chapter, Alvares quotes historian, K.M. Panikkar who wrote that till the nineteenth century there was no large demand for European goods in any Asian country. The Empires of Asia had self-sufficient economies. Though the trade of India was large at all times, the economy of the country was not based on trade. This was true of China also, and the imperial government seems at all times to have discouraged the import of foreign goods into its territory.
Europe during the middle ages had but little to offer to the Asian economies. But a serious crisis of overproduction in the 1550s in England stressed the need for new outlets and the most hopeful prospect then seemed to be that of establishing trade with the Far East - both China and Japan.
Here Alvares embarks upon a discussion of the international trade that took shape in those days to the detriment of Indian manufactures. Besides setting up institutions for collecting revenue, the colonial government set about making institutional changes in agriculture by transforming traditionally restricted property rights into something more closely resembling the unencumbered private property so characteristic of Western agricultural systems. William Woodruff sees in this,
one of the principal ideas that signalled the application of the Western idea of progress in the non-Western world. The consequence of the half-Westernized land policy, the change from custom to contract, was the creation of one of the greatest curses ever to settle on the structure of the Indian rural economy: the rise of the power of the moneylender. Before the arrival of the colonizer, for centuries in fact, the moneylender had been nothing more than a servile adjunct to
the cultivator, socially despised as much for his trade as for his religion. The institution of property rights was specifically intended for the collection of the land tax. It established a direct legal relation between the colonial government and the peasant or landowner. This in itself led to the beginning of inheritance and thus to the problem of the division of land. Indeed the legacy of
the colonial past still pesters India and China, but China to a lesser extent as China was never a full-scale colony.
There are many such examples around the world and the question in the end Alvares asks is who is going to help bring about this shift to the necessary and desired technological development for each country. What is involved here is the issue of distribution of power, and the concentration of it in the hands of private interests and concerns. The politics of technology often reinforces the status quo, and the question remains as to who is going to impose solutions. How do we help
separate the aims of a democratic society from those of private industry, and make the former control the latter?
Having exposed the deleterious consequences of the Western model of development, Claude Alvares presses home not only the desirability of alternative development strategies, but also their feasibility and necessity.

Dharampal, the Great Gandhian and Historian of Indian Science

Dharampal, the Great Gandhian and Historian of Indian Science
Individuals who worry that mainstream western historians of science have completely ignored the great contributions that India has made in the fields of science and technology acutely realize the importance of the path-breaking work of Dharampal. Despite his modest means, he spent several years in unraveling the position of Indian science and industry before the arrival of the British. �And the irony behind his discoveries lies in the fact that Dharampal used the writings of the British themselves to prove his points.
Recently, The Other India Press published the Collected Writings of Dharampal. �These are elegantly published paperbacks which cost less than $30/- for the whole set of six volumes.
Claude Alvares, who has also played a significant role in bringing out the importance of Traditional Knowledge Systems in India, met Dharampal quite by accident. It is Alvares who brought the world these valuable volumes at such an affordable price. �In the first volume of the Collected Writings, Alvares has written the Preface entitled Making History. �It brings out, not only the significance of Dharampal's momentous contributions to history of Indian science, but also an intimate glimpse into the life of this great Gandhian. �It's a very illuminating piece of writing and I cant resist the temptation of giving it almost verbatim.
Below is a biographical sketch of Dharampal in Alvares' powerful words:
My encounter with the amazing historical work of Dharampal came about in 1976 in a most unexpected place: a library in Holland. �I was at that time investigating material for a PhD dissertation, part of which dealt with the history of Indian and Chinese science and technology. �While there was certainly no dearth of historical material and scholarly books as far as Chinese science and technology were concerned - largely due to the work of Joseph Needham, reflected in his multi-volume Science, and Civilisation in China - in contrast, scholarly work on Indian science and technology seemed to be almost non-existent. �What was available seemed rudimentary, poor, unimaginative, wooden, more filled with philosophy and legend than fact.
Desperate and depressed, I wandered through the portals of every possible library in Holland trying to lay my hands on anything I could find. �The irony of looking for material on Indian science and technology in Holland should not be missed.
However, I was doing a PhD there and had very little choice.
Then one morning, I walked into the South East Asia Institute on an Amsterdam street and found a book called Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century on the shelf. �I took it down, curious. �It was by a person named Dharampal whom I had not heard of before as a person or scholar active in that area of research. �I took the book home and devoured it the same day. �It altered my perception of India forever.
Now, more than twenty years later, I know that the book appears to have had a similarly electrifying effect on thousands of others who were fortunate to get a copy of it. �It spawned a generation of Indians, which was happy to see India thereafter quite differently from the images with which it had been brought up in school, particularly English medium school.
The book also provided a firm anchor for the section of my dissertation dealing with Indian science and technology. The dissertation was eventually published in 1979 with the rather academic title: Homo Faber: Technology and Culture in India. China and the West: 1500 to the Present Day.
The same year (1976), a friend of mine from Orissa dropped in at our flat in Amsterdam. I mentioned Dharampal to him. �Astonishing to relate, he turned out to be a friend of Dharampal and even told me where he lived. �Next door, he said, in London. �He also had Dharampal's telephone number. �The following week we took a flight to London and I met Dharampal for the first time in my life. �His family was with him at the time: his wife, Phyllis his two daughters, Gita and Roswita, and his son, David. �The meeting initiated a relationship that has persisted the present moment. �Today I am happy to head a publishing house that is bringing out his Collected Writings. �I myself returned to India in 1977. �Stranger events followed, thereafter.
In 1980, I was called to Chennai to join a civil liberties team probing the killing of political activists in fake police encounters in North Arcot district in Tamilnadu. Predictably, the team was beaten up by a mob set up by the police. �On our turn to Chennai, where we decided to hold a press conference, we were put up at the MLA hostel. �While passing by one of the rooms, whom should I see sitting there but Dharampal himself. �I had to rush to the press meeting thereafter.
Before the press could arrive, however, two or three young strangers arrived to meet me. They said they were from the Patriotic and People-Oriented Science and Technology (PPST) group, which had members and sympathisers in both Kanpur and Madras IITs. They wanted to sit with me and discuss my Homo Faber (the Indian edition had just been brought by Allied Publishers then). �They also wanted more information on Dharampal, whose work they were coming across for the first time in Homo Faber. �Why do you want to talk to me, I asked them, when you can very well meet Dharampal himself. �They were astonished. �Dharampal? �Here in Madras? �When I told them where I had found him, they made a beeline for the MLA hostel. �That encounter initiated a long, fruitful and creative association between Dharampal and the PPST, which has also persisted, with some ups and downs, to the present day. �For a few years, the PPST brought out a journal called the PPST Bulletin. �In it, Dharampal and his work occupied pride of place. �During this period, in fact, members of the PPST Group produced some of the finest articles ever written and published on the subjects of Indian science, culture, technology, and the relevance of Western science and technology to Indian society. �Some members of the PPST later spent a considerable amount of time and energy working on the Chengalpattu data, which often recurs in Dharampal's writings.
Today, Dharampal's work is quite extensively known, far beyond the PPST Group, not just among intellectuals and university professors, but also among religious leaders including swamis and Jain monks, politicians and activists. �One of the most impressive off-shoots of his research has been the organization of the bi-annual Congress on ead . �Three such Congresses, organized by the PPST and institutions like the IlTs, have so far been held, generating an impressive wealth of primary material. �Dharampal himself has been invited to deliver lectures at several institutions within India and abroad. (Some of these lectures can be found in Volume V of the Collected Writings.).
The general effect of Dharampal's work among the public at large has been intensely liberating. �However, conventional Indian historians, particularly the class that has passed out of Oxbridge, have seen his work as a clear threat to doctrines blindly and mechanically propagated and taught by them for decades. �Dharampal never trained to be a historian. �If he had, he would have, like them, missed the wood for the trees. Despite having worked in the area now for more than four decades, he remains the quintessential layman, always tentative about his findings, rarely writing with any flourish. �Certainly, he does not manifest the kind of certainty that is readily available to individuals who have drunk unquestioningly at the feet of English historians, gulping down not only their 'facts' but their assumptions as well. �But to him goes the formidable achievement of asking well entrenched historians probing questions they are hard put to answer, like how come they arrived so readily, with so little evidence, at the conclusion that Indians were technologically primitive or, more generally, how were they unable to discover the historical documents that he, without similar training, had stumbled on so easily.
Dharampal's unmaking of the English-generated history of Indian society has in fact created a serious enough gap today in the discipline. �The legitimacy of English or colonial dominated perceptions and biases about Indian society has been grievously undermined, but the academic tradition has been unable to take up the challenge of generating an organized indigenous view to take its place. �The materials for a far more authentic history of science and technology in India are indeed now available as a result of his pioneering work, but the competent scholar who can handle it all in one neat canvas has yet to arrive. �One recent new work that should be mentioned in this connection is Helaine Selin's Encyclopaedia of Non-Western Science, Technology and Medicine (Kluwer, Holland), which indeed takes note of Dharampal's findings. �Till such time as the challenge is taken up, however, we will continue to replicate, uncritically, in the minds of generation after generation, the British or European sponsored view of Indian society and its institutions. �How can any society survive, let alone create, on the basis of its borrowed images?
Dharampal's own description of his initiation into Indian historiography is so fascinating it must be recounted in some detail. �Soon after he got associated with the Quit India movement in 1942, he became attracted to the idea of the village community. �Perhaps this was partly due to his being with Mirabehn in a small ashram community in a rural area in the Roorkee-Haridwar region from 1944 onwards. �But when in 1948, he heard of the Jewish Kibbutzim in Palestine, this interest was evoked again and he visited them in late 1949 for some two weeks. �He came away from the visit, however, with the feeling that the Kibbutzim model was not something that could be replicated in India. �Later, along with other friends, he did attempt to launch a small village near Rishikesh in which all families had an equal share of the land, etc. �The village, however, could not mould itself into a community: it lacked homogeneity. �It also had practically no resources at all when it began. �Later, in 1960 Dharampal got to know of village communities in Rajasthan which had Bees Biswa village panchayats, and some Sasana villages near Jagannath Puri in Orissa, which were established some 700 years earlier and were still prosperous and functional in the early 1960s.
An encounter, which affected Dharampal greatly in this context, is best recounted here in his own words:
Around 1960, I was traveling from Gwalior to Delhi by a day train, a 6 or 7 hour journey in a 3rd class compartment when I met a group of people and I think in a way, that meeting gave me a view of India, the larger India. �The train was crowded. �Some people however made a place for me. �And there was this group of people, about twelve of them, some three or four women and seven or eight men. �I asked them where they were coming from. �They said that they had been on a pilgrimage, three months long, up to Rameshwaram, among other places. �They came from two different villages north of Lucknow. �They had various bundles of things and some earthen pots with them.
I asked, what did they have in those pots. �They said that they had taken their own food from home. �They had taken all the necessities for their food-atta, ghee, sugar - with them, and some amounts of these were still left over. �The women didn't seem to mind much people trampling over them in the crowded compartment, but they did feel unhappy if someone touched their bundles and pots of food with their feet.
And then I said they must all be from one jati, from a single caste group. �They said, 'No, no! We are not from one jati, we are from several jatis.' �I said, how could that be? �They said that there was no jati on a yatra-not on a pilgrimage. �I didn't know that. �I was around 38 years old, and like many others in this country who know little about the ways of the ordinary Indian-the peasants, artisans and other village folks.
And then I said, 'Did you go to Madras? Did you go to Bombay?' 'Yes! We passed through those places,' 'Did you see anything there?' 'No, we did not have any time!' It went on like that. �I mentioned various important places of modern India. �They had passed through most, but had not cared to visit any.
Then I said, 'You are going to Delhi now?' 'Yes!' 'You will stop in Delhi?' 'No, we only have to change trains there. We're going to Haridwar!' �I said, 'This is the capital of free India. Won't you see it?' I meant it. �I was not joking. �They said, 'No! We don't have time. �May be some other day. �Not now. �We have to go to Haridwar. �And then we have to get back home.'
We talked perhaps 5 or 6 hours. �At the end of it I began to wonder, who is going to look after this India? , India are we talking about? This India, the glorious of the modem age, built by Jawaharlal Nehru and c people, these modem temples, universities, places of scholarship! For whom are we building them? �Those people their pilgrimage were not interested in any of this. �And were representative of India. �More representative of II than Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ever was. �Or I and most us could ever be.
The encounter shook Dharampal then, as much as memory of it bothers him even today. This particular experience more than any other, drove him to look for the causes of the profound alienation of India's new leaders from the preoccupations of the common people and to investigate whether this had always been so.
Similarly, fascinated by the largely intact and functioning Bees Biswa and Sasana village communities, he wished to know what it was that had kept these aspects of Indian civilization so far alive and ticking (in contrast to some of the disintegrated and pauperised communities we encounter in the present), assumed that if the basis of these hitherto vibrant communities were understood, it might assist Indian society - particularly its intellectuals and political leaders - to divest itself of its present state of depression and disinterest with its surroundings and perhaps become lively again. �The inquiry had to focus on how India had functioned before the onset of the debilitating British and European dominance. �When he began, he had no clear direction in which to look. �Even after he had found what he was looking for, the utter significance of it would dawn on him only late
It is important for the reader to know that till about 1964 Dharampal merely had a layman's knowledge of archives and the records and material they generally held. �His first acquaintance with the archival record on India began at Chennai (previously Madras) during 1964-65 but expanded and deepened over the years. �He discovered that most of the material dated from around 1700 AD and owed its creation largely to British needs, even when these archives held some Indian language materials on paper or palm leaves. �(The Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the various European Christian as well as commercial institutions which began to come to India from the mid-16th century also maintained similar archives relating to their encounter with India but these were smaller.)
All this British archival material (most of which is presented or referred to in the Collected Writings) mostly dwells on certain aspects of India as seen and understood then by the British. �The material falls broadly within three areas:
The first relates to descriptions of India, its physical landscape, the manners of its people in certain regions, their public life, festivals, cultural life and institutions, the nature and extent of Indian agricultural and industrial production, and Indian sciences and technologies.
The second pertains to the continuing British-Indian encounter, especially from around the British occupation of Arcot in 1748 to about 1858. �Then the encounter is again visible from about 1875, and with its high and low spots, continues till 1947 when India got divided into India and Pakistan, and the British-created institutions and functions were taken over by their own governments.
The third begins with the unfolding of British designs and policy pertaining to India in Britain in the 1680s and thereafter, and their visible implementation and imposition on India from around 1750. �The origins of these designs and policies remain mainly in Britain till the very end, while their implementation is in India, and in the areas governed in India's name from the China seas in the East to St. Helena in the West.
It would be helpful at this stage to know how this huge and very detailed archival record was indeed created. �For this purpose, a little background relating to the governance of India during English colonial rule is absolutely necessary.
It is conventional doctrine (taught in most history books) that from 1600 to around 1748 the British East India Company (E.I.Co.) established itself largely in the coastal towns and cities of India, declared these places as fort towns and called them factories, i.e. store houses for trade, with the requisite military establishments. �From 1748, the E.I.Co. is said to have gradually involved itself in the conquering of India and till 1858 at least was considered to be solely responsible for the plunder and violence associated with the conquest. �We are further told that it is only because the British were disturbed by the company's misrule, which resulted in the great Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 - that they decided to establish direct rule in India and though governance of India was placed under the charge of a cabinet minister, named the secretary of state for India, an arrangement that eventually continued till 1947.
It is true that an E.I.Co. was established in Britain through the grant of a charter in 1600, and that it had adventurer plunderers in its ranks. But, according to Dharampal, it altogether functioned on its own. �From the beginning, company had the full support of British naval forces expansion drive, and often of British state military forces as well. Also, from the beginning, the E.I.Co. contributed substantial sums (in millions of pounds sterling) to the British government treasury and also advanced amounts at low interest to the British state. �From time to time, it received directions from state authorities and at times certain of its affairs were under the charge of British naval commanders who received instructions directly from the British King or the British Admiralty. �It is these directions and communications that comprise the earlier archival records.
One such major case involving official supervision was the final British encounter with Admiral Kanohji Angrey of Maharashtra around 1754. �The British state felt that he was a great challenge to British expansion and had to be somehow eliminated. �There would have been scores of such instances between when the E.I.Co. originated and 1750, when it began to assume the role of a conqueror and sovereign.
From 1750 onwards, more and more instructions from the British were conveyed through various channels to the E.I.Co. �After the British domination of Bengal from 1757 onwards, Robert Clive - a 'heaven born General' according to Lord Chatham, virtual ruler of the British then - wrote to Britain that India could only be governed directly by the British state and not any company. �This and other similar advice was deliberated up some years leading to the Regulating Act of 1773 by which British state appointed the Governor General and his Council, and 11 years later, to the 1784 Act, which established a Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India, with a President and 6 members, one of whom in the early stages was none other than the British Prime Minister. �The Commissioners then were the rulers of India. �All instructions of any kind to any department of state in India, or to its three Presidencies, were cleared by them in detail (word by word, comma by comma).
Once these were final, the job of the Court of the E.I. Co. was to send these to India under the signature of their Chairman and members. �Besides, a separate channel of communication was opened between the President of the Board of Commissioners and the British Governor General in India (as also with the Governors of the Presidencies), which at times even over-rode certain formal instructions conveyed through the company. �The instructions in certain departments were prepared by the Board of Commissioners themselves, the signature of the Chairman of the Company obtained, and the matter sent to India from the Board's office itself. �It is this arrangement, which prevailed till 1858. �The change in 1858 was in fact only a change in nomenclature: the President of the Board was now the Secretary of State for India. (Thus, the E.I.Co. as such became wholly redundant in the ruling of India, or areas in its vicinity i.e., from the China seas to St. Helena, from 1813 onwards, if not from much earlier. �According to Dharampal, this clarification needs to sink deep not only into Indian minds, but, into the minds of the world historical community too).
Thus, details of every occurrence in India, which came to the notice of British authority had to be communicated, at least till 1858, to London in order to obtain instructions or the approval of London on the individual issue. �The British archival record therefore informs us of each and every such event.
So, if one wanted to have knowledge in any detail of the society and life of India before British dominance, the obvious thing to do was to carefully peruse these British-generated archives. �This Dharampal now did. �He did not have much of an income. There was also a family to support. But notwithstanding all this, he became a regular visitor to the India Office and the British Museum. �Photocopying required money. �Oftentimes, old manuscripts could not be photocopied. �So he copied them in long hand, page after page, millions of words, day after day. �Thereafter, he would have the copied notes typed. �He thus retrieved and accumulated thousands of pages of information from the archival record. �When he returned to India, his most prized possession was these notes, which filled several large trunks and suitcases.
It is not that others had not consulted these very records before. �Dozens had. �They missed the overall picture largely because they saw the material in fragments, for a particular piece of research, over a month or a year or two. �Dharampal, in contrast, gave it the benefit of decades. �His mind retained ever detail of what he read with uncanny sharpness. �That is how eventually he got the whole picture.
This picture that emerged from the total archival record was nothing short of stunning. Contrary to what millions of us were taught in our school text-books, it indicated the existence functioning society, extremely competent in the arts and science of its day. �Its interactive grasp over its immediate natural environment was undisputed; in fact, it demanded praise. �This reflected in both agricultural and industrial production. �We know today that till around 1750, together with the Chinese, our areas were producing some 73% of the total world industrial production, and even till 1830, what both these economies produced still amounted to 60% of world industrial production. �Even a moderately fertile area like that of Chengalpattu (Tamilnadu) our paddy production in a substantial area of its lands around 1760-70 amounted to some 5-6 tons per hectare, which equals the production of paddy per hectare in present day Japan - the current world high. �A vast educational set-up -- based on a school in every village - looked after the requirements of learning of masses of young people.
The most impressive feature of the set-up was the elaborate fiscal arrangements made for its upkeep in perpetuity, if inquired. �From the gross produce, amounts were allocated by tradition for the upkeep of the system, from the engineers looked after the irrigation tanks and channels to the police school teachers. In technology, we produced steel that was superior to Sheffield steel. �We also produced dyes, ships are literally hundreds of commodities.
As he recorded all this, Dharampal also saw how it was being undermined, how the British in fact went about pulverising the Indian economy and society.
As he studied the sometimes fascinating, sometimes cruel record, practically every day, it held him as if bewitched. �He found that the British successfully initiated an intricate system of widespread control and extortion, taking away as tax most of what the land produced, as well as the products of manufactures. �He found it horrifying that this was often done at the point of the bayonet.
According to Dharampal, the British purpose in India, perhaps after long deliberation during the 17th century was never to attempt on any scale the settlement of the people of Britain or Europe in India. �It was felt that in most regions of India, because of its climate, temperature range, gifted, industrious and dense population, the settling of the people of Europe would serve little purpose.
Therefore the purpose was defined as bringing to Britain and Europe, surplus products of the varied industry of the people of India, and the taxes imposed on this industry. �Such a proposal, in fact, was very clearly put forward around 1780 by Prof. Adam Ferguson of Edinburgh. �Ferguson was a professor of moral philosophy. (Interestingly. he is also regarded as the founder of British sociology.)
While discussing the mode of governing India, Ferguson raised the question of the purpose of this governance. �According to him, the aim was to transfer as much as possible of the wealth of India to Europe. �And this task, according to him, could not directly be conducted by servants and institutions of the British state. �They would be too bound by rules and state discipline to do justice to the task. �The transfer of wealth to Europe, he felt, would generally require the bending and breaking of rules as no major extraction or extortion from the ruled could be effectively done through instruments of the state. �He therefore felt that the direct governance of India should be in the hands of the servants of a body like the E.I. Co., where the servants could when needed disobey orders and rules. �But the company should be controlled and supervised by a high-power body constituted by the state. �It is this logic and arguments that eventually led to the formation of the Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India in 1784.
Dharampal found that for long periods in the late 18th and the 19th centuries, the tax on land in many areas exceeded the total agricultural production of very fertile land. �This was particularly so in the areas of the Madras Presidency (comprising current Tamilnadu, districts of coastal Andhra. some districts of Karnataka and Malabar). �The consequences of the policy were easy to predict: in the Madras Presidency, one third of the most fertile land went out of cultivation between the period 1800-1850. �In fact, as early as 1804, the Governor of the Madras Presidency wrote to his masters (the President of the Board of Commissioners) in London:
We have paid a great deal of attention to the revenue management in this country...the general tenor of my opinion is, that we have rode the country too hard, and the sequence is, that it is in a state of the most lamentable poverty. �Great oppression is I fear exercised too generally in the collection of the Revenues.
Of course, Dharampal also found within the same archives information about the Indian civil resistance in various regions of India in the early stages of British rule, like the one in Varanasi region around 1810-11 and in Canara around1830 and how they were contained. �But such events are not taken note of in the formal record as deliberate policy. �Even petitions against grievances, though invited, would not be office recorded unless the wording of the petition conveyed a sense of the petitioner's humility and of his (or her) limitless respect for authority.
Excerpts from one such rejected petition against the tax imposed in Varanasi highlight this:
...former sooltauns never extended the rights of Government (commonly called malgoozaree) to the habitations of their subjects acquired by them by descent or transfer. �It is this account that in selling estates the habitations proprietors are excepted from the sales. �Therefore, the operation of this tax infringes upon the rights of the community, which is contrary to the first principles justice...
...It is difficult to find means of subsistence and the duties, court fees, transit and town duties which have increased tenfold, afflict and affect everyone rich all and this tax, like salt scattered on a wound, is a cause of pain and depression to everyone both Hindoo and Musulman: let it be taken into consideration that as a consequence of these imposts the price of provisions within these ten years increased sixteen fold. �In such case how is it possible for us who have no means of earning a livelihood to subsist?
By their methods of extortion and other similar means the British were able to smash Indian rural life and society by about 1820-1830. �Around the same period, the extensive Indian manufactures met a similar fate. �Because of deliberate British policy, the famed Indian village communities so eloquently described by Thomas Metcalfe around 1830, and by Karl Marx in the 1850s, had mostly ceased to exist.
Similar comments could be made about the narratives on Indian science and technology. �Initially they were desired for their contemporary relevance and usefulness to the advancement or correction of their British counterparts. �But soon after the British began to rule and control Indian life and society, the continuity of Indian knowledge and practice seemed to them a threat. �Therefore it was something to be put aside so that it crumbled or decayed. �Dharampal found that such a programme of 'making extinct' was contrived in practically every sphere of human activity, including the manufactures of cotton textiles, the production of Indian steel, and even the Indian practice of inoculation against small pox as early as A.D. 1800.
A similar fate awaited the extensive network of Indian schools and institutions of higher learning when they began to be surveyed in the 1820s and 1830s. �Ironically, it is mainly through the British archival records that one becomes aware of the extensive nature of the education network, as well as its speedy decay in the Madras and Bengal Presidency, and somewhat later in the Presidencies of Bombay and in the Punjab. �Of course, the view, which we get from such archival material is splintered and not integrated. �But the indicators in themselves are of great value. �They also provide us glimpses of pre-British life and of aspects of India's society of which we had lost track from about A.D. 1850 when society was broken up and sup- pressed, and an imposed alien system of education made us ignore and forget the innumerable accomplishments of our people.
Dharampal is quite clear and explicit on the uses of history. He writes:
If we investigate these records on similar aspects further, on the basis of what is available in our archaeological, inscriptional and other historical sources, and what is still retained in the memory and consciousness of our people, we ought to be able to reconstruct our social and cultural past, and hopefully to mould our state and society accordingly.
Since Independence in 1947, it is this question of reconstruction of self and society on the foundation of our priorities, values, tradition and culture that seems to have completely eluded us, particularly our scholars, administrators and politicians. �We appear to have forgotten that we can look back and learn from our own past. �And based on that experience, construct our own unique identity within the context of our own affairs as well as that of the rest of the world. �What do we as a nation - without leaning on others' ideological and material crutches - want? �Do we have ingenuity or not? �Can we make our points-as against aligning with one sort or another? �I have a point to make as Indians?
When Dharampal started on this monumental work around 1965-66, he had felt then that whatever these British accounts might tell us, and howsoever incompletely, they would help us if we followed them up with further detailed and intensive explorations of such material as exists in India. �Further, with the association of our own people in the exploration - in most things still linked with their past and with much more vivid men of it - we should, within a generation or so, begin to reconstruct our earlier life and society, linking this with our present circumstances and needs. �It is distressing to note, though, that we are yet to undertake this task. �Dharampal writes further:
Today, we feel encircled by hostility - much of it is in fact generated by our own ineptitude and actions. �From around 1947, we have treated ourselves as cousins of the West. �Dominated by the West, it may be necessary at the moment to rely on Western knowledge and products. �But this can be only a short-term proposal. �Very soon, whatever Western know-how or products seem essential to us, we must learn to produce them in our own way, with our own material, variations and modifications.
In the meanwhile, however, we must set our ordinary people free; remove the obstacles in their path relating to use of their local physical and material resources, encourage them to use their talents to rebuild there own shattered worlds in their own various ways (even, if required, by withdrawing those laws and rules which tend to block whatever they attempt, and keeping our advice and criticism to ourselves). �Only then can other local relationships and linkages begin to come alive; societal manners and memory pertaining to specific activities to get awakened; and the rebuilding does not remain a mere copy of the past. �By taking account of the world around Indian society will begin to integrate such elements of Western or other technologies that seem to it as relevant and stimulating for its own base.
For all this to happen, a profound alteration in our attitudes towards our people and our past has to take place. �We must enable our people to feel more self-assured, confident, hopeful, proud of their talents and capacities, and encourage them to regain their individual and societal dignity.
To achieve this state, they need to acquire a better aware ness - especially as children and youth - of the human past of their localities, and to establish friendly relations with other beings including all kinds of animal life, bees, bushes and plants, rivers, lakes, ponds, hills, forests, soil, etc. which coexist with man. �Similarly, we should begin to be aware of the linkage of each and every locality with the immediate region, of the region with the country, and of our country with other countries on this earth, and the earth's linkage with the cosmos.
These efforts would require new texts of well-told stories of localities, regions, countries, the world, and the various ideas about the beginning or non-beginning of the universe. �Such knowledge and awareness would make our people feel confident and well informed and also enable them to partake of the Indian understanding of life and of natural phenomena.
It would also ground them in the elements of various sciences and technologies in agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry and crafts, as well as history, philosophy, grammar and language. �Thus, by about the age of fourteen, our children - boys as well as girls - would have become competent citizens of their respective areas.
All histories are elaborate efforts at mythmaking. �Therefore, when we submit to histories about us written by others, we submit to their myths about us as well. �Mythmaking, like naming, is a token of having power. �Submitting to others' myths about us is a sign that we are without power. �After the historical work of Dharampal, the scope for mythmaking about the past of Indian society is now considerably reduced.
If we must continue to live by myths, however, it is far better we choose to live by those of our own making rather than by those invented by others for their own purposes, whether English or Japanese. �That much at least we owe ourselves as an independent society and nation.
Alvares, Claude. 2000. Preface: making history. In Dharampal (author), Indian Science & Technology in the Eigteenth Century. Mapusa: Other India Press.