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How History Was Unmade At Nalanda! D N Jha

July 9, 2014

This response to Arun Shourie by DN JHA is the complete original, of which a shorter version was published in The Indian Express today.

Ruins of Ancient Nalanda University

Ruins of Nalanda University

I was amused to read  ‘How History was Made up at Nalanda’ by Arun Shourie who has dished out to readers his ignorance masquerading as knowledge –  reason enough to have pity on him and sympathy for his readers! Since he has referred to me by name and has  charged  me with fudging evidence to distort the historical narrative of the destruction of  the ancient Nalandamahavihar,  I consider it necessary to rebut his allegations and set the record straight instead of ignoring his balderdash.

My presentation at the Indian History Congress in 2006 (and not 2004 as stated by Shourie), to which he refers, was not devoted to the destruction of ancient Nalanda per se – his account misleads  readers and pulls wool over their eyes.  It was in fact focused on the antagonism between the Brahmins and Buddhists  for which I drew on different kinds of evidence including myths and traditions. In this context I cited the tradition recorded in the 18th century Tibetan  text, Pag-sam-jon-zang by Sumpa Khan-Po Yece Pal Jor,mentioned by B N S Yadava in his Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century (p.346) with due acknowledgement, though in his pettiness, Shourie is quick to discover plagiarism on my part! I may add that “Hindu fanatics” are not my words but  Yadav’s which is why they are in quotes. How sad that one has to point this out to a Magsaysay awardee journalist!

In his conceit Shourie is disdainful and dismissive of the Tibetan tradition which, has certain elements of miracle in it, as recorded in the text. Here is the relevant extract from Sumpa’s work cited by Shourie : “While a religious  sermon was being delivered in the temple that he [Kakut Siddha] had erected at Nalanda, a few young monks threw washing water at two Tirthika beggars. (The Buddhists used to designate the Hindus by the term Tirthika). The beggars being angry, set fire on the three shrines of Dharmaganja, the Buddhist University of Nalanda, viz.— Ratna Sagara, Ratna Ranjaka including the nine-storeyed temple called Ratnodadhi which contained the library of sacred books” (p.92). Shourie questions how the two beggars could go from building to building to “burn down the entire, huge, scattered complex.” Look at another  passage (abridged by me in the following paragraph) from the History of Buddhism in India written by another Tibetan monk and scholar Taranatha in the 17th century:

During the consecration of the  temple built by Kakutsiddha at Nalendra [Nalanda] “the young naughty sramanas threw slops at the two tirthika beggars andkept them pressed inside door panels and set ferocious dogs on them”. Angered by this, one of them went on arranging for their livelihood and the other sat in a deep pit and “engaged himself in surya sadhana” [solar worship] , first for nine years and then for three more years and having thus “acquired mantrasiddhi” he “performed a sacrifice and scattered the charmed ashes all around” which   “immediately resulted in a miraculously produced fire”, consuming  all the eighty four temples and the scriptures some of which, however, were saved by water flowing from an upper floor of the nine storey Ratnodadhi temple. (History of Buddhism in India, English tr. Lama Chimpa & Alka Chattopadhyaya, summary of pp.141-42).

If we look at the two narratives closely, they are similar. The role of the Tirthikas and their miraculous fire causing a conflagration are common to both. Admittedly one does not have to take the miracles literally but it is not justified to ignore  their importance as part of  traditions which gain in strength over time and become part of collective memory of the community. Nor is it desirable or defensible   to disregard the element of long standing antagonism between the Brahmins and Buddhists which may have given rise to the Tibetan tradition and nurtured it till as late as the 18th century or even later.  It is in the context of this Buddhist-Tirthika  animosity that the account of Sumpa assumes importance; it also makes sense because it jibes with Taranatha’s evidence. Further, neither Sumpa, nor  Taranatha,  ever came to India. This should mean that the idea of Brahminical hostility to the religion of the Buddha  traveled to Tibet fairly early and became part of its Buddhist tradition, and found expression in the 17th-18th  century Tibetan writings.  Acceptance or rejection of this kind of source-criticism is welcome if it comes from a professional historian and but not  from someone who flirts with history as Shourie does.

Of the two Tibetan traditions, the one  referred to by me  has been given credence not only by Yadava (whom Shourie, in his ignorance,  dubs a Marxist!) but a number of other Indian scholars like R K Mookerji (Education in Ancient India), Sukumar Dutt (Buddhist Monks and Monsteries of India), Buddha Prakash (Aspects of Indian History and Civilization),  and S C Vidyabhushana who interprets the text to say that it refers to an actual “scuffle between the Buddhsit and Brahmanical mendicants and the latter, being infuriated, propitiated the Sun god for twelve years, performed a fire- sacrifice and threw the living embers and ashes from the sacrificial pit into the Buddhist temples which eventually destroyed the great library at Nalanda called Ratnodadhi”  (History of Indian Logic, p516 as cited by D R Patil, The Antiquarian Remains in Bihar, p.327). Scholars named above were all polymaths of unimpeachable academic honesty and integrity. They had nothing to do, even remotely, with Marxism: which is, to Shourie in his bull avatar, a red rag.

Now juxtapose the Tibetan tradition with  the contemporary account in the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri of Minhaj-i -Siraj, which Shourie not only misinterprets but also blows out of proportion. Although its testimony has no bearing on my argument about Brahmanical intolerance, a word needs to be said about it so as to expose his “false knowledge”, which as G B Shaw said, is “more dangerous than ignorance.” The famous passage from this text reads  exactly as follows:

“He [ Bakhtiyar Khalji] used to carry his depredations into those parts and that country until he organized an attack upon the fortified city of Bihar. Trustworthy persons have related on this wise, that he advanced to the gateway of  the fortress of Bihar with two hundred horsemen in defensive armour, and suddenly attacked the place. There were two brothers of Farghanah, men of learning,  one Nizamu-ud-Din, the other Samsam-ud-Din (by name) in the service of Muhammad-i-Bakht-yar ; and the author of this book [ Minhaj] met with at Lakhnawati in the year 641 H., and this account is from him. These two wise brothers were soldiers among that band of holy warriors when they reached the gateway of the fortress and began the attack, at which time Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself into the postern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the fortress and acquired great booty. The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven; and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and, when all these books came under the  observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a  number of Hindus  that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus were killed. On becoming acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and  city was a college, and in the Hindui tongue, they call a college Bihar” (Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, English tr. H G Raverty, pp.551-52).

The above account mentions the fortress of Bihar as the target of Bakhtiyar’s attack. The fortified monastery which Bakhtiyar  captured  was, “known as Audand-Bihar or Odandapura-vihara” (Odantapuri in Biharsharif then known simply as Bihar). This is the view of many historians but, most importantly, of Jadunath Sarkar, the high priest of communal historiography in India (History of Begal, vol. 2,  pp.3-4). Minhaj does not refer to Nalanda at all: he  merely speaks of the ransacking of the “fortress of Bihar” (hisar-i-Bihar). But how can Shourie be satisfied unless Bakhtiyar is shown to have sacked Nalanda? Since Bakhtiyar was leading plundering expeditions in the region of Magadha, Shourie thinks that  Nalanda must have been destroyed by him – and, magically, he finds ‘evidence’ in an account which does not even speak of the place. Thus an important historical testimony becomes the victim of his anti-Muslim prejudice. In his zeal, he  fudges and concocts  historical evidence and ignores the fact that Bakhtiyar did not go to Nalanda; it “escaped the main fury of the Muslim conquest because it lay not on the main route from Delhi to Bengal but needed a separate expedition” (A S Altekar in Introduction to Roerich’s Biography of Dharmasvamin).  Also, a few years after Bakhtiyar’s sack of Odantapuri, when the Tibetan monk Dharmasvamin visited Nalanda in 1234, he “found some buildings unscathed” in which some pandits and monks resided and received  instruction from Mahapandita Rahulshribhadra. In fact, Bakhtiyar seems to have proceeded from Biharshrif  to Nadia in Bengal through the hills and jungles of the region of Jharkhand, which, incidentally, finds first mention in an inscription of 1295 AD (Comprehensive History of India, vol IV, pt. I, p.601).  I may add that his whole book, Eminent Historians, from which the article under reference is excerpted, abounds in instances of cavalier attitude to historical evidence and peddles a perverse perception of the Indian past.

It is neither possible nor necessary to deny that the Islamic invaders conquered parts of Bihar and Bengal and destroyed the famous universities in the region. But Shourie’s laboured effort to associate Bakhtiyar Khalji with the destruction and burning of the university of Nalanda is a glaring example of the wilful distortion of history. Certainly week-end historians like Shourie and others of his ilk are always free to falsify historical data but this only reveals the lack of any serious historical training.

Shourie had raised a huge controversy by publishing his scandalous and slanderous Eminent Historians in 1998 during the NDA regime and now, after sixteen years, he has issued its second edition. He appears and reappears in the historian’s avatar when the BJP comes to power, tries to please his masters and keeps waiting for crumbs to fall from their table. His view of the past is no different from that of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and their numerous outfits consisting of riffraff and goons who burn books that do not endorse their view, vandalize art objects which they consider blasphemous, present a distorted view of Indian history, and nurture a culture of intolerance. These elements demanded my arrest when my work on beef eating was published, and censured  James Laine when his book on Shivaji came out. It is not unlikely that Shourie functions in perfect harmony with them and persons like Dina Nath Batra  who targeted  A  K Ramanujan’s essay emphasizing the diversity of the Ramayana tradition; Wendy Doniger’s writings, which  provided an alternative view of Hinduism; Megha Kumar’s work on communalism and sexual violence in Ahmedabad since 1969;  and Sekhar Bandopadhyaya’s textbook on modern India which does not eulogize the RSS.

Arun Shourie seems to have inaugurated a fresh round of battle by reproducing in a second edition his faked, falsified and fabricated historical evidence, thus providing grist to the reactionary mill of Batras and their ilk.

D N Jha is Former Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Delhi. His important publications include Early India and The Myth of the Holy Cow.

41 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2014 5:16 PM

    Arun Shourie clearly has mixed up this Bihar with Nalanda. DN Jha points that out very well. Shourie meant to use the importance of Nalanda’s import in present times to drive home a point. Jha says that it was not this seat of learning but another seat of learning that Bakhtiyar Khilji had destroyed. Clearly that does not make Bakhtiyar any less of a horror to Bengal and Bihar. Does DN Jha contest that? It is this space where the end is well-known and the means to demonstrate it are dubious, where Shourie operates. Jha spends enough energy to show how dubious the means are, but falls short of energy when it comes to the end. This energy differential is clever and technically defensible but it causes immense damage to fight the kind of politics that Shourie espouses.

  2. July 9, 2014 6:37 PM

    This is such a fitting and much needed response to Arun Shouri’s puerile article that he showed off as ‘history’. It is quite evident that while Mr Jha is a trained historian, dealing with the subject passionately, in a rational manner, Mr Shourie is just interested to furthering the agenda of the elements for whom his heart bleeds. Great job sir, but we need many more courageous academics like Mr Jha here, who could debunk all the canards and propaganda spread by the Sangh parivaar and their sympathizers. It might be an uphill battle but it needs to be fought. We owe this much to our pluralistic culture and history. These goons and their ‘intellectual’ sympathizers can’t be allowed to vitiate the atmosphere even further.

  3. a rose cellar permalink
    July 9, 2014 7:21 PM

    since you have brought it up, i must let the readers of kafila know what arun wrote against the Eminent Historians: ” but so tough are the hymen of these progressives that, even when they contribute signed articles to publications of the Communist Party, their virginity remains intact!” [ http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/articles/19980627.htm%5D

    clothed in symbolic metaphor a rapist’s mind is visible! Romila Thapar et al dismissed it as an ‘insult’ but…i think it is a very serious violation of the self.

    • July 10, 2014 6:07 PM

      Dear God! Did he really say those words. So unfortunate. I used to respect him for his courageous journalism during his Indian Express stint, which gradually withered away when I learnt that he is a Sangh sympathizer. But this! This just shreds away every last bit of respect that I had once for him. Even more unfortunate, because he got away with such remarks. Shameful

      • Suresh permalink
        July 11, 2014 11:59 PM

        Does it mean that a sangh sympathiser cannot be a bold editor.Every one has some bias, some prejudice,some foibles.He may have his own way of writing.All writers even at New York Times, WSJ,Time,Economist have some blind spots.I stopped my subscription to the Economist because it showed J&K as a part of Pakistan way back in 2010.It is their view.If you do not like Shourie or Sangh do not read them but do not underestimate their overall personality

    • July 17, 2014 12:10 AM

      I have read his book and I know why Arun Shourie used the phrase “hymen”. It was a response to the Marxist diatribe against him where they used the exact same phrase “hymen” and virgin” and “flesh trade” to describe Arun Shourie’s work.

      It is really interesting that the great Historian D. N. Jha, who almost said that Khilji was a red cross volunteer took note of puny little scholar like Arun Shourie and spent his precious time on writing a rebuttal. What Arun Shourie wrote in Indian Express is merely an excerpt from his old book published 2 decades ago.

      Such is the situation of the Marxists historians these days that they have to finally come out from their government funded ivory towers and try to show that they are still alive.

      Coming back to the so called “rebuttal”, the underlying point remains that Nalanda was not destroyed by Hindus. D. N. Jha uses the phrase “fanatic hindus” without giving nay evidence.

      And hold on, did not Khilji destroy Nalanda ? Is the “Vihaar” Arun Shourie talking about is some Library in Soviet Russia ?

  4. a rose cellar permalink
    July 9, 2014 7:35 PM

    the link to arun’s Rubbish:

    http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/articles/19980627.htm

  5. swadhin sen permalink
    July 9, 2014 9:11 PM

    Firstly I would like to express my respect to Prof. D. N. Jha. As a student of Buddhism and archaeology of Buddhism – if there is any discipline like this exists -, I have some observations on the topic. They are as follows:
    – The narrative of destruction of Nalanda Mahavihara by Ikhtyar al-Din Bakhtyar Khalji has not been merely a RSS narrative. This narrative is officially endorsed by the Indian state. Just at the entrance of present monumental remains of the Nalanda, a narration about the destruction of the vihara by Bakhtyar Khalji has been permanently installed on the stone panel for the visitors since a very long time. The panels are installed by Archaeological Survey of India. I encountered it during my first visit to Nalanda in 2008. The (his)story of plundering of Buddhist establishments by ‘Muslim invaders’ has been endorsed, I claim, not only by ‘Hinduttva’ narratives, they have also been normalized by simplified and linear secular historical discourses. Even in case of Somapura Mahavihara in Bangladesh, the same narrative has been institutionalized since its inception by excavator K. N. Dikshit in his excavation report of 1938. We are working since 2005 in the northwestern part of Bangladesh where Somapura Mahavihara is located and we have found this normalized and hegemonic narrative very problematic on many grounds. I am not going into their details here.
    – If the accuracy of the Tibetan accounts is questioned – which is quite valid from different grounds – then the narrations of Minhaj could also be challenged as Tabaqat – i – Naasiri was written more than 40 years later than the expedition by Bakhtyar. Major Raverty translated this book by comparing and cross-checking twelve manuscript versions. Many archaeologists and historians have used all these sources with great caution. In spite of their inaccuracy, exaggeration and often, inconsistency, these texts have remained valuable for the archaeologists and historians because of the scarcity of relevant and reliable sources.
    – The decadence and abandonment of Buddhist Monasteries or Buddhist establishments in Eastern India – as far as the growing knowledge on them suggests- were conditioned by multiple factors. It is spurious to put the responsibility on the Turks ( I prefer to use ‘Turks’ instead of ‘Muslims’, as ‘Muslim’ as a collective identity and historically specific category cannot be projected to 13th -14th century CE. It is a much later construction. See, Beyond Turks and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia, eds by D. Gilmartin and B. B. Lawrence. The construction and representation of collective identity was not essentially religious in the secular and modern sense. (see, Representing the other? Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims by B. D. Chattopadhyaya). The construction of ‘Muslims’ as a category and representation of them as invaders and destroyer have their own historicity in the colonial and Orientalist historiography.
    – The increasing body of archaeological research has compelled us also to rethink Buddhist Monasteries as ‘Universities’ and ‘as place of learning and austere practice of renunciant Buddhist Monks’. I think we have simply projected the modern and Eurocentric idea and notion of ‘university’ on the early Buddhist Monasteries. Recent works (for example, by Gregory Schopen and by Jonathan Silk) have been quite illuminating in the sense that these works have brought to fore evidences from textual, archaeological and epigraphic sources and these new perspectives have compelled us to rethink the essentialized construction of Buddhist Vihara/Mahavihara/Viharika as universities or colleges or only as academic institutions. Buddhist sanghas had played a variegated role in relation to laity and they were not simply dissociated from the mundane. These constructions of mahavihara/vihara/viharika as educational institutions could be linked to the processes and structures of romantic secular historiography of Buddhism as well (see, The British Discovery of Buddhism by P. Almond).
    – Nalanda Mahavihara, as a constellation of several vihara, had a hinterland zone and it had a economic and social backdrop. We must remember that monasteries had become large scale landholders on around 7th – 8th century CE and they had a direct and indirect relation to agrarian and trade activities. The hinterland zone of Nalanda Mahavihara with various rural settlements had a close connection to the functioning of the monastic activities and life, along with royal and non-royal patronage. The causes of the decadence and abandonment of this Buddhist establishment must be sought into the failure of the prolonged functioning of the networks between the sangha and laity, changes in the reciprocal agrarian relations and also the changes in the landscape and environmental variables. Putting all the blame on sectarian and religious conflicts is often simplifying and homogenizing. This is not to say that the conflicts had nothing to do with the disruption of the life and activities of the Buddhist sangha of these establishments. But the conflicts were a continuous process and were not essentially sectarian (or ‘religious’) as it is shown, for example, by the attack of army of Vangala(?) in c.11th century CE on Somapura Mahavihara. There are evidences of, moreover, attacks (or conflicts and destruction) from archaeological sources, especially, in case of Somapura Mahavihara. Changes in the methodology of archaeological researches may provide the same for other monastic establishments in Bihar region as well including Nalanda Mahavihara.

    We need to change our conceptions and practices on the history and archaeology of Buddhism in India.

    Thanking you,
    Swadhin Sen
    Associate Professor
    Department of Archaeology
    Jahangirnagar University
    Bangladesh

    • July 11, 2014 7:34 AM

      I would like to thank Dr. Sen for this comment. Especially important is the point made about Turks and Muslims, where we have done so much damage by uncritically adopting the language of the colonizer. Sanksrit sources refer to the Central Asian invaders of medieval India as Turks. There have been Muslim communities in India since the time of Mohammed, and thye had nothing to do with these incursions. These Turks could have been Buddhist Mongols or even Nestorian Christians. It is remarkable that we never talk about the British invasion of India as a ‘Protestant Christian assault’ on India, but both Hindus and Muslims are so obsessed with seeing the conquests of medieval India in religious terms.

      There are crucial questions about how a new political elite, both foreign in origin and vastly different in religion were able to dominate the highly complex and vast society in the subcontinent from 1200 AD to 1700 AD. Why did the native elites not resist the entry of this elite in an organized fashion, like they had in the past ? Did the incoming Persianized Turks and Afghans simply possess superior militaries and administration skills ? If so, why did their rule collapse, and get replaced by the former elites again in between 1700 and 1850 AD ? What about the common people ? How did they see the change of regime ? What was life for a Hindu peasant really like Ghaznavid era Punjab ? In Delhi during the reign of Iltutmish ? We rarely get to hear anything about these questions.

  6. July 10, 2014 7:11 AM

    Readers are enlightened on Arun Shourie’s “false knowledge”, which as G B Shaw said, is “more dangerous than ignorance.” He has also Master Degree in ” satanic verses” of journalism in “Bofors”…

  7. Bhadra permalink
    July 10, 2014 5:13 PM

    Dear Prof Jha, Thank you very much for responding to Mr Shourie and thank you very much for writing such a good response.

  8. Sunil Kumar permalink
    July 11, 2014 4:01 PM

    india is probably only country where any one can write about anything he feel like. Mr Arun Shourie who is economist by study, is not comfortable writing in that area but try to put his hand in distorting history. i could not understand why newspaper like Indian Express even take such crap.Its better to leave some page blank instead. It is very clear from the article and his background and the timing he has chosen to write that he is having ulterior motive. else no one mention in his writing about eminent historian as Marxist more than eight times in the article. Better he limit his work in economy and leave history to historian rather than working on hidden agenda of some political party.

    Dr Jha we are thankful to you for writing and replying back through this article. at least people got chance to see the fact in logical sequence. request all historian to come forward and interpret thing rather than leave the ground for some politician.

    Many thanks for Dr Swadhin Sen for adding and bringing even the unwritten fine prints of acceptance . i agree to him fully about the narrative displayed at gate of nalanda ruins about how it was divastated. I belong to that area and have visited number of times since 1977 . I something is not clear to historian, on what basis Archaeological Survey of India give wrong information to general public. if not confirmed , they could have well written simple , ‘not yet known” . we Indian feel shy in saying we do not know something.

    Thanks Vikram for bringing point about non consideration of of British invasion of India as a ‘Protestant Christian assault’ on India, but both Hindus and Muslims are so obsessed with seeing the conquests of medieval India in religious terms.

    Its an eye opener and any rationale government should be ready for open debate on the issue.

  9. July 11, 2014 6:19 PM

    While interpreting a past controversial event, there should be mandatory upon the expression of mind set that the resume of the interpretation is being making without any prejudice and based upon the absolutely faithful evidences on both the archaeological and textual based and these are equally proving truth of facts over each others. It is true that evidences of fire activities at Nalanda in various monastic complex were noticed during excavations and few of evident are remain preserved in-situ vitrified. Even in ongoing excavation at Telhara mound (located in District-Nalanda situated about 35km away from this Nalanda ruins) which exposed form of monastic structures having large firing activities belonging to the contemporary of Nalanda ruins at the level of same firing occupation. This could also be destructed in due sequence destruction of the learning centers within the imperial territory of Bakhtyar Khilji. There is remain unexposed structures located buried under the present settlement of Biharsharif town which identified as the remains of Ancient Odantapuri Mahavihara. If we able to ascertain the similar kind of evidence at here then it may be resume that the three ancient Monastic centers located nearby the Nalanda perhaps hit for fire at a time.
    But if we consider the ethics of these institutions were set for taught in the past was not fixed suitable only for the Buddhistic study but even for others sects of faith or beyond this as secular study of sciences and ethics as reflected through the arts form made or depicted in the architectural setup of Nalanda. Then, it will be very clear that the fact of conflict among the Brahmin or Buddhist followers was not responsible for the destruction of institutions.

  10. July 12, 2014 1:00 AM

    There’s nothing wrong in re-visiting aspects of history and re-interpreting them. Even a journalist-scholar like Arun Shourie who doesn’t have full credentials as a historian can throw in his arguments. Diversities in views and pluralism in ideas supported by evidence should always be welcome. However, presentation of history with a fixated hidden ideology and agenda on either side will not work in this day and age. Majority of a hundred million first-time young voters, who have voted Modi’s party to power (2014), will no longer be interested in mere ad nauseum repetition of the fact that the Turks, Mongols, Persians, Afghans — all masqueraded as Muslims — invaded India from the West. They have moved way beyond that. The BJP ideologues will have to come to terms with demands of the new changing times. Their party and government will have to work hard to contain forces of communal violence and at the same time work toward communal harmony. If they continue to harp on the same old Hindu-Muslim divide, they should better be advised they will be thrown into the garbage of history. India has always been a tolerant pluralistic society and will remain that way.

    • Chander Patel permalink
      July 14, 2014 5:37 PM

      Well said, Binoy Prasad. One thing that must be emphasised is that there has never been a serious issue of self identification of Buddhism, with Hindus. Buddhism is seen as a product of the soil, an Indic philosophy or ethic. Religions that came from outside India can also become part of the Indic ethos and consciousness, provided they themselves identify and empathise strongly with that ethos.

      • Saira-Aziz permalink
        July 15, 2014 4:42 PM

        And who will decide that they have empathised strongly enough to please you? Which part of Indic consciousness should they imbibe? The caste system? I suggest a little bit of travel to countries with a large Muslim or Chritian population. In each country – the religion has been transformed to a religion of that country and nowhere more so than in India.

        • April 18, 2015 12:23 AM

          The problem starts when historians both Hindutva & Marxists & even others while reading the term “Muslim” are not willing to write beyond the Turks or Persian or even Mongol aristocracies of Delhi . They do not write about native communities that converted to Islam , why not talk about Muslim Gujjars or the Khanzadas , each of these communities have a native history that is beyond Islam ; they have common origins with their corresponding Hindu (simply translated as non-converts) counterparts ; & most importantly these communities even individually outnumber the Syeds , Mirzas or other “Ashraf” castes — the communities that invaded India in the last millenium.

          The day we accept that the History of Hinduism is not same as the history of Hindus or the History of Islam is not the same as the history of Muslims , things would be better ; bcz many Hindus & Muslims have common tribes —how can the former be “the conquered” & the latter “the invader” .

    • S.Shankar permalink
      August 6, 2014 7:24 PM

      Indian society is ‘tolerant’?? In spite of the ‘unparalleled social abuse of untouchability (A.J.Toynbee)’ ? ‘Tolerant’ is an English word with a specific meaning!

  11. swadhin sen permalink
    July 12, 2014 1:45 PM

    Evidence of firing activities have been found in the excavation of several other monastic establishments, even in Bangladesh. For example, in Somapura Mahavihara we have found more than one event of firing. In Jagaddal Vihara there is evidence of firing activities. From archaeological points of view,

    First, we need to understand the firing event as anthropogenic, not accidental.

    Second, as I have already mentioned in my previous note, there are evidence of conflagration even before the thirteenth century CE, especially in case of Somapura Mahavihara.

    Thirdly, its is relatively easy to date these events through calibrated radiocarbon dating. The evidence from Telhara mound must be dated stratigraphically and through chronometric dating. Even if the date corresponds to 13th – 14th century CE, it doesn’t prove that the fire was part of the attack and destruction perpetrated by Bakhtyar.

    Fourthly, a reliable and accurate corroboration between an event interpreted from archaeological context and an event recognized from textual and epigraphic sources. This analogy between different sources which are interpreted through different methods is extremely crucial. An event in textual narrative cannot essentially be reflected in archaeological evidence.

    It is only assumed that Odantapuri Mahavihara is located in present Bihar Sharif. As far as my knowledge goes, no archaeological or epigrapahic material has attested to the fact that the Odantapuri Mahavihara was on this place. The textual reference to the destruction of Odantapuri mahavihara ( I am not sure about the exact reference in Tabaqaat) must be checked and verified before incorporating it into any hegemonic narrative.

    We must not put all the responsibilities upon the Turks. This is not to claim that Turkish army didn’t attack any monastery.

    My objection is about,

    – uncritical endorsement of a ubiquitous narrative of ‘Muslim’ invasion and destruction which has very weak evidential basis.

    – about the methodology of interpretations.

    History writing is always a political act. Political in the sense that it requires to deal with past human lifeways – continuities and contingencies. The agency of the archaeologists and historians are conditioned by various factors. What matters most is to be rigorous in the application of methods and to be able to take positions in the conditions of inequality and repression with the support of a rigorous methodology.

    The history of Buddhism and Buddhist establishment in eastern India and in Bangladesh needs the incorporation of that kind of methodology.

  12. Shrinivas permalink
    July 13, 2014 3:18 AM

    ” … the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and their numerous outfits consisting of riffraff and goons who burn books that do not endorse their view, vandalize art objects which they consider blasphemous, present a distorted view of Indian history, and nurture a culture of intolerance. These elements … censured James Laine when his book on Shivaji came out.”

    To be fair, those who went after James Laine call themselves the “Sambhaji Brigade”. AFAIK, while these guys may be more chauvinistic about Shivaji than the RSS is about Hindutva, they are all about the awesomeness of the Maratha, and view the brahmin dominated RSS with anathema and suspicion. They are a Maratha/Kunbi caste organization, unconnected with the Sangh/RSS in any way. Marathas/Kunbis are generally considered to be a Congress/NCP vote bank in Maharashtra.

  13. Shailesh permalink
    July 14, 2014 11:02 AM

    If it was written “fortress of Bihar” this is the translation by GB shaw it means u r refering Bihar as in present context i.e. BIhar as a state. It is totally falsification of its actual meaning. You can’t refer Bihar on that time as a state because this region was known as “Patliputra” on that Bihar simply means VIHAR i.e. a place where Boudh people move and live.
    In actual writing he write, as you have mentioned, “it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindui tongue, they call a college Bihar” . You didn’t explain this above part clearly. It imply a lot of things. I also read Arun shourie’s article but i m sorry to say u didn’t answer most of his valid question.

  14. Abdul Majid Zargar permalink
    July 15, 2014 4:45 AM

    Thank You Mr. Jha for this illuminating clarification & busting the myths floated by people with jaundiced eyes,blocked ears & bitter tongues. They have brought India near to a second partition.

  15. Shadab permalink
    July 15, 2014 5:15 PM

    thanks to D.N. Jha ans Swadhin Sen for enlightning and sheding light to the hisotrical intepretation of events.. i am humbly enlighted by there writings who always aspire to know the truth…

  16. Jay permalink
    August 24, 2014 6:42 AM

    It is pathetic that Shourie is now masquerading as a historian after his multiple failures as the Minister for Communications and IT in the Vajpayee Government!

  17. A.Yeshuratnam permalink
    September 3, 2014 11:36 AM

    There is no documentary or numismatic evidence to affirm that Bhaktiyar Khalji destroyed Nalanda monastery. Even in the days of Gupta kings, there was a large scale persecution of Buddhists. At the time of Muslim invasion, there were some prominent principalities in north India such as Ujjain, Gwalior, Kalinga, Kanauj, Delhi and Ajmer. Rulers of these principalities were fanatical Hindus and they were bent upon destroying Buddhism. The Palas ruled Bihar when Bhaktiyr Khalji invaded the region. In all probability, Karna, son of Gangeyadeva, the Kalachuri king, would have destroyed Nalanda monastery during his campaigns against Nayapala of Pala dynasty. Long before Bhaktiyar’s appearance, there was a systematic religious policy to decimate Buddhism. Romila Thapar points out that Hsuan Tsang himself has referred to persecution of Buddhists. “ The persecution of Buddhists in Kashmir”, says Thapar, “is referred to by Hsuan Tsang, but lest it be thought that he being a Chinese Buddhist monk was prejudiced, the testimony of Kalhana in the Rajatarangani should be more acceptable. Hsuan Tsang refers to the atrocities of Mihirakula against the Buddhists both in Punjab and in Kashmir in the sixth century A.D. Hsuan Tsang may well have been exaggerating when he lists the destruction of 1,600 stupas and sangharamas and the killing of many thousands of Buddhists and lay followers. Kalhana gives an even fuller account of the king killing innocent people by the hundreds.”
    It is quite transparent from all available records, especially from the writings of Chinese pilgrims, that Nalanda was a Buddhist monastery where Buddhist monks stayed, prayed and meditated. Redbrick walls were used for construction to protect the monks and refugees against the attacks of Hindu chauvinists. It is ridiculous to call this Buddhist monastery a university without knowing the meaning and purpose of a university. University is an institution of higher learning providing facilities for teaching and research and authorized to to hold examinations and confer degrees. It is nothing but a flight of fancy among some Indian writers to exaggerate facts and claim modernity for backward and primitive institutions. Unfortunately, even foreign authors have reproduced as facts imaginary views of some Indian authors. How incredible their views are can be gauged from the fact that it took three months to burn the great library of Nalanda when Bhaktiyar’s men set fire to it. For one thing there is no proof that Bhaktiyar attacked Nalanda. In those days there were no printed paper texts but leaf-manuscripts which could be burnt in a matter of minutes. It will not take 3 months to burn a forest. So on the face of it everything is false, manipulated and fabricated. There was no university; no library. It was a Buddhist monastery and refugee center.

  18. A.Yeshuratnam permalink
    September 3, 2014 12:06 PM

    Another clarification:
    What is the evidence that Nalanda, Thakshashila are universities?Archaeological Survey of India was established in 1861 with General Alexander Cunningham as the first head of the Institution. It is the apex organization of the country engaged in exploration, excavation, archaeological research & publication and preservation of cultural heritage of India. In 1902 John Marshall he was appointed Director-General of Archaeology by Lord Curzon within the British Indian administration, and modernized the approach to archaeology on that continent, introducing a programme of cataloging and conservation of ancient monuments and artifacts. It was thanks to Marshall that Indians were allowed for the first time to participate in excavations in their own country. In 1913, he began the excavations at Taxila, which lasted for twenty years. He laid the foundation stone for the Taxila museum in 1918. The museum hosts many artifacts and also hosts one of Marshall’s very few portraits. He then moved on to other sites, including the Buddhist centers of Sanchi and Sarnath. His work revealed to the world the true age of Indian civilization especially Indus Valley Civilization and Mauryan age (Ashoka’s Age).
    Until Marshall excavated the Indus region nobody knew about the Indus Valley civilization. Thakshashila and Nalanda were also similarly excavated by British archaeologists.. Ruins and artefacts in Takshashila and Nalanda do not show any evidence of universities.Excavated articles were arranged in Museums, and there is absolutely no reference to 10,000 professors, 50,000 students, or about science subjects alleged to have been taught in the imaginary universities. They were huge Buddhist monasteries but falsely claimed by later writers as universities.

  19. James Anderson permalink
    September 3, 2014 8:04 PM

    So let us get this straight:

    – The book “Tabaqat i nasiri” was written 40 years after Nalanda was destroyed, and that is a lie – but a tibetian source/book written 400 years after the event is true?

    – And the book “Tabaqat i nasiri” is a work of fiction? Really? Have you debunked this? Are you saying William Darlymple is wrong as well?

  20. September 4, 2014 11:38 PM

    I am also taking the points raised by Mr. James Anderson as straightly as possible. Without referring to the sources, it not intellectually and politically correct to raise questions within the framework of a debate which is very crucial not only academically but also in terms of the profound implications of the debate in the living of the billions of people in South Asia. I found it problematic to term one argument as ‘lie’ without necessarily bringing forth the evidences in support of the ‘truth’. What follows is my modest response.
    Let me take the privilege to cite from the illuminating introduction to the Bangla translation of three tabquāt narrating the events in Bengal (tabquāt is a plural of the word tabquat denoting a story, if the word is directly translated from the Persian) by the eminent archaeologist and historian of Bangladesh – A. K. M. Zakariah. Tabquāt-i-Nasiri comprises 23 tabquats. Minhaz narrated the (hi)story of the Muslim world from the earliest times. The title of the book means stories of Sultan Nasir āl-Din Mahmud or stories written for Sultan Nasir āl-Din who became the sultan of Delhi in 644 A. H. (1246 CE). Minhaz came to India in 624 A.H. (1227 CE) and he finished this book in 658 (1260 A. H.). He was the eye witness of many events in Indian subcontinent during this particular period. It is not certain when he started writing this book. The information about the period before his coming he had to depend on various informants. But it could be assumed that it took a certain period of time to collect information regarding the events in India prior to his coming in 624 CE and even regarding during his lifetime in India.
    There is not specific reference to the exact date of Mohammad Bakhtyar’s attack of Bihar in Tabquāt-i-Nasiri. After his conquest of Bihar, Bakhtyar attacked Naodiha of Bengal and conquered it when Laksman Sen, the king of Sen Dynasty of Bengal was ruling in that part and middle part of present Bangladesh. Great controversy regarding the location of Naodiha and the date of the attack by Bakhtyar obscure different aspects of that particular event. Several historians contend that the Naodiha is present Nadia of West Bengal, India. There are sufficient historical evidences, however, for the views that do not accept this identification of Naodiha with Nadia. On the basis of numismatic evidence, it is hypothesized that Bakhtyar conquered the Gauda ( the region in Bengal including Naodiha was also identified as Gauda by Minhaz) on 10 May of 1205 CE. On the basis of the description by Minhaz and the coin issued by Mohammad Ghuri (known as ‘Gauda Vijaya/the conquest of Gauda’ coin), it has been assumed that Bakhtyyar’s attack of Bihar and destruction of Odantapuri Bihar – narrated by Minhaz – took place at least two years before his conquest of Naodiha. Now it is up to the readers to determine the ‘true’ time that elapsed between the event of the attack of Bihar, as narrated by Minhaz, and the writing and completion of Tabquāt-i-Nasiri.
    I am not simply interested here to engage with the work of William Darlymple, as his works are not the central and relevant frame of reference of this debate. But what I have already pointed at covertly and what I would like emphasize further is the perceived notion of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ in reference to ‘textual source’ and its use in the writing of history. I have already mentioned the evidential anomalies of Tibetan sources with regard to writing history. I claim that Tabquāt-i-Nasiri should be treated as much cautiously and critically as the Tibetan sources. I want to cite just one example of exaggeration from Tabqāt as it is not possible to engage with all the others within this space of debate. Minhaz mentioned that Bakhtyar conquered Naodiha with the cavalry composed of only twenty horsemen. This stupendous narration has been questioned by many historians and archaeologists of Bengal. Even if it is considered that Laksman Sen became weak and old as a king at that time, considering the strength of Sena kingdom it was not possible to accept the narration of the conquer the one of the central seats of Sena Kingdom with an army of twenty-one men including Bakhtyar.
    For those who are not aware of the methodology of history writing of pre-colonial India, it is necessary to mention that the ‘text’ versus ‘history’ debate have had attracted a number of prominent historians. The historiography is still enmeshed into this debate which could be identified as essentially connected to and embedded into the debate around the dichotomy of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ and ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’. Anybody who is interested may make a sincere effort to get an idea about the debate and profound impact it has imparted on the historiography of South Asia. Without considering the conditions and structures within which a text is produced and later, used as a source of history writing, it could be scandalous to differentiate the ‘fact’ from the ‘fiction’. We have found many instances in our time of modernity that have already blurred the boundaries of these categories. I consider the ongoing debate on Nalanda as an attempt to question the taken for granted assumption about that boundary. This debate also supports my assumption that the debate runs deeply into the public consciousness in South Asia and beyond.
    Peace be upon everyone.

  21. September 4, 2014 11:42 PM

    I am also taking the points raised by Mr. James Anderson as straightly as possible. Without referring to the sources, it is not intellectually and politically correct to raise questions within the framework of a debate which is very crucial not only academically but also in terms of the profound implications of the debate in the living of the billions of people in South Asia. I found it problematic to term one argument as ‘lie’ without necessarily bringing forth the evidences in support of the ‘truth’. What follows is my modest response.
    Let me take the privilege to cite from the illuminating introduction to the Bangla translation of three tabquāt narrating the events in Bengal (tabquāt is a plural of the word tabquat denoting a story, if the word is directly translated from the Persian) by the eminent archaeologist and historian of Bangladesh – A. K. M. Zakariah. Tabquāt-i-Nasiri comprises 23 tabquats. Minhaz narrated the (hi)story of the Muslim world from the earliest times. The title of the book means stories of Sultan Nasir āl-Din Mahmud or stories written for Sultan Nasir āl-Din who became the sultan of Delhi in 644 A. H. (1246 CE). Minhaz came to India in 624 A.H. (1227 CE) and he finished this book in 658 (1260 A. H.). He was the eye witness of many events in Indian subcontinent during this particular period. It is not certain when he started writing this book. For the information about the period before his coming he had to depend on various informants. But it could be assumed that it took a certain period of time to collect information regarding the events in India prior to his coming in 624 CE and even regarding during his lifetime in India.
    There is not specific reference to the exact date of Mohammad Bakhtyar’s attack of Bihar in Tabquāt-i-Nasiri. After his conquest of Bihar, Bakhtyar attacked Naodiha of Bengal and conquered it when Laksman Sen, the king of Sen Dynasty of Bengal was ruling in that part and middle part of present Bangladesh. Great controversy regarding the location of Naodiha and the date of the attack by Bakhtyar obscure different aspects of that particular event. Several historians contend that the Naodiha is present Nadia of West Bengal, India. There are sufficient historical evidences, however, for the views that do not accept this identification of Naodiha with Nadia. On the basis of numismatic evidence, it is hypothesized that Bakhtyar conquered the Gauda ( the region in Bengal including Naodiha was also identified as Gauda by Minhaz) on 10 May of 1205 CE. On the basis of the description by Minhaz and the coin issued by Mohammad Ghuri (known as ‘Gauda Vijaya/the conquest of Gauda’ coin), it has been assumed that Bakhtyyar’s attack of Bihar and destruction of Odantapuri Bihar – narrated by Minhaz – took place at least two years before his conquest of Naodiha. Now it is up to the readers to determine the ‘true’ time that elapsed between the event of the attack of Bihar, as narrated by Minhaz, and the writing and completion of Tabquāt-i-Nasiri.
    I am not simply interested here to engage with the work of William Darlymple, as his works are not the central and relevant frame of reference of this debate. But what I have already pointed at covertly and what I would like emphasize further is the perceived notion of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ in reference to ‘textual source’ and its use in the writing of history. I have already mentioned the evidential anomalies of Tibetan sources with regard to writing history. I claim that Tabquāt-i-Nasiri should be treated as much cautiously and critically as the Tibetan sources. I want to cite just one example of exaggeration from Tabqāt as it is not possible to engage with all the others within this space of debate. Minhaz mentioned that Bakhtyar conquered Naodiha with the cavalry composed of only twenty horsemen. This stupendous narration has been questioned by many historians and archaeologists of Bengal. Even if it is considered that Laksman Sen became weak and old as a king at that time, considering the strength of Sena kingdom it was not possible to accept the narration of the conquer the one of the central seats of Sena Kingdom with an army of twenty-one men including Bakhtyar.
    For those who are not aware of the methodology of history writing of pre-colonial India, it is necessary to mention that the ‘text’ versus ‘history’ debate have had attracted a number of prominent historians. The historiography is still enmeshed into this debate which could be identified as essentially connected to and embedded into the debate around the dichotomy of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ and ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’. Anybody who is interested may make a sincere effort to get an idea about the debate and profound impact it has imparted on the historiography of South Asia. Without considering the conditions and structures within which a text is produced and later, used as a source of history writing, it could be scandalous to differentiate the ‘fact’ from the ‘fiction’. We have found many instances in our time of modernity that have already blurred the boundaries of these categories. I consider the ongoing debate on Nalanda as an attempt to question the taken for granted assumption about that boundary. This debate also supports my assumption that the debate runs deeply into the public consciousness in South Asia and beyond.
    Let Peace be upon everyone.

  22. September 5, 2014 3:09 PM

    Please, correct the sentence ‘he finished this book in 658 (1260 A. H.)’ by replacing it with he finished this book in 658 A. H (1260 CE)

  23. Adityakrishna Singh permalink
    October 4, 2014 11:06 AM

    I think Professor Jha & all those who are endorsing the view that Turks under Bakhtiyar Khilji did not destroy Nalanda , following is an excerpt from Prof Satish Chandra ‘s Medieval India :From Sultanat to Mughals Vol1″ :

    ” Bakhtiyar Khilji’s reputation as an enterprising warrior spread far & wide ,and many Khiljis from different parts of Hindustan joined him .Even Muizuddin honored him & sent him a robe of distinction though he was neither his slave nor his employee .Emboldened he now attacked the famous fort of Bihar with 200 horsemen which he later found out wer Buddhist monastery.This apparently was the famous Nalanda university.He then captured another university town ,Vikramshila, & caused much havoc there.”(pg. 41)

    Satish Chandra is a Marxist & highly secular Historian.

    The biggest flaw in the Indian Secular Historian Movement , has remained that while fighting the Hindu Right , it has unconsciously come up ,even if due to radical reactionism, to take up positions that coincide with the Muslim Right .For eg. views of Dr. Irfan Habib on Arab conquest of Sindh surprisingly coincide with that of Dr. I H Qureshi , a Pakistani Rightist. The latter’s idea of Arab conquerors being benign liberators of Sindh from shackles of native Hindu social-religious cults , came under attack from none other than G M Syed ,the doyen of Secularism in Sindh. These same ideas when also presented by Dr. Habib on the other hand need to be defended just because these statements come under attack from Hindu Right.

    Something becomes lucid : The Left is no doubt on the better moral position than the Right. But the Left is as much prone to politicizing History as much as the Right , contrary to its claims.

    • A.Yeshuratnam permalink
      October 5, 2014 2:30 PM

      Prof.Satish Chandra has not quoted any literary or inscriptional evidence to prove Bhaktiyar attacked Nalanda. Moreover, he says that it was a Buddhist monastery. not university. Satish Chandra would have followed some unauthorised history text of that time and he has no evidence to support his view. It should be blindingly obvious that archaeological excavations at Nalanda site have not brought to light any brick or plaque to show it was a university.British excavators who conducted the excavation never said that the ruins indicate that it was a university. When Calcutta University was established on 24 January 1857, the term university became attractive and prestigious, and some Indian zealots probably would have coined the word ‘university; for the ruins of a Buddhist monastery excavated at Nalanda.

  24. vineet permalink
    April 16, 2015 6:35 PM

    here come another great archaeologist from hindustan “shauri” … right now all the Indians are living with the false(mythological) of their past which was badly crafted by Aryan brahmins ….since from the invasion by Aryans they are just keep on destroying the native cultures of this land that starts from SINDHU , HADAPPA , MOHANJADARO , NAGA , BUDDHIST , DRAVIDIAN and many more like this and are still telling the false stories to the indian people .

  25. October 13, 2015 3:21 PM

    If you want to marginalize Hindutva, balanced and objective scholarship and winning the public trust is the only way. Anyone else will be digging his own grave.
    Sujay Rao Mandavilli

Trackbacks

  1. An Eminent Historian – his line and his fraud? | aranyarodana
  2. No historians were hurt in the making of this object
  3. How History Was Unmade At Nalanda!-a respone | Kaagoj

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