Wednesday, 29 August 2018

The History of India

At the same time, when these conditions are loyally recognised and accepted, we cannot doubt that the result will be a continual snatching of new morsels out of the night of prehistoric to be brought within the lighted circle of history. This will happen still more constantly if students will try to saturate themselves with the social habit of thought, that is to say, if they will accustom themselves to thinking of the human and psychological facts behind events. Only this habit can teach them when to postulate tribes and people for the individual names in ancient ballads, or when to read a war of migration and conquest for a battle. Only this can give them a sense of scale with which to measure the drift and tendency of the forces coming into play during certain epochs. To multiply here and divide there is very necessary, yet only to be done rightly by one who is accustomed to think sociologically.

The sociological habit is essential also if we would be in a position to gauge the relations of India to the incomers from beyond her border. Few people know that in the beginnings of human society woman was the head of the family, and not man. Queens, who seem to us now somthing of an anomaly, represent an institution older than that of kings. In certain nations the memory of this ancient time of mother-rule is still deeply ingrained. Others, like the Aryans, have long ago passed out of it. And some fragmentary communities in the world remain still more or less on the border line between the two. Only a grasp of that history will enable us to compute distances of time truly. How old a given institution is, it may be impossible to say in terms of years, but we can tell at a glance whether it is matriarchal or patriarchal, or by what combination of two societies it may have arisen. The thought of goddesses is older than that of gods, just as the idea of queens is prior to that of kings.

The history of common things and their influence on our customs is a study that follows naturally on that of human society. Much of this we can make out for ourselves. For instance, we can see that the ass must be older than the horse as a beast of burden. Once upon a time the world had no steeds, no carrier, save this useful if humble servant of man. Let us dream for a while of this. Let us study the present distribution of the donkey, and find out his name in various Aryan languages. All that the horse now is, as a figure in poetry, the ass must once have been. Noblest, fleetest, bravest, and nearest to man of all the four-footed kind, men would set no limit to their admiration for him. The goddess Shitala rides upon a donkey, because in that dim past out of which she comes, there were as yet no horses tamed by man. There was once no steed so royal as the milk-white ass, which is now relegated here to the use of dhobis, while numerous are the allusions to its use, and the glory thereof, in the older Jewish scriptures. The very fact that it appears in the account of the Royal Entrance, in the Christan story, points to the old association of splendour clinging longer to the name of the ass in Arab countries than elsewhere, and in harmony with this is the fact that it is widely distributed throughout Africa. After the horse was once tamed, men would never have taken the trouble necessary to reclaim the ass, and from this alone we may judge of its great antiquity. At the same time we may form an idea of the time and effort spent on the gradual domestication of wild animals, when we read the reiterated modern opinion that the zebra cannot be tamed. Primitive man would not so easily have given up the struggle. But then he would not so easily have given up the struggle. But then he would not either have expected so quick and profitable a result. In the story of the commonest things that lie about us we may, aided by the social imagination, trace out the tale of the far past.

Thus the mind comes to live in the historic atmosphere. It becomes ready to learn for itself from what it sees about it at home and on a journey. The search for stern truth is the best fruit of the best scientific training. But the truth is not necessarily melancholy, and Indian students will do most to help the growth of knowledge if they begin with the robust conviction that in the long tale of their Motherland there can be nothing to cause them anything but pride and reverence. What is truly interpreted cannot but redound to the vindication and encouragement of India and Indian people.

...Sister Nivedita - .From Footfalls of Indian History


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