Parameters for the writing of Indian history

A reader brought it to my attention (presumably due to the mention of ‘astronomy’) following piece from a blog article by Shri Shrikant Talageri.  I am told that this was written sometime in 2014.

2. Scientific Approach: The tools for decoding and cataloguing Indian history also should be scientific rather than emotional ones. Archaeology, anthropology, textual analysis, etc., and the various scientific tools and procedures incidental to these disciplines should be made ample use of wherever possible. However, sciences such as DNA studies may do to study prehistoric movements (or, for later periods of time, to derive sensationalist pieces of news such as the alleged presence of the genes of Genghis Khan in a large part of the population of Asia), but when their time frames go back into tens of thousands of years, they really have little or nothing to do with historical questions (as, for example, the “Aryan” or Indo-European question, which is at the root of most studies on the beginnings of India’s civilization, which pertains to a period after 4000 BCE). Likewise, in my opinion, sciences such as astronomy, which are much misused in the study and analysis of ancient Indian history, especially by Indian writers who seek to write Indian history from an Indian viewpoint, are of no use unless the recorded data on the basis of which astronomical claims are made is astronomically precise and unambiguous. Unfortunately, most of the astronomical claims made in this context are arbitrary, whimsical and wishful in nature, and based mainly on purely symbolic or wishful interpretations of phrases and words which are totally devoid of any astronomical import. Indian discussions on astronomy in the ancient texts constitute the weakest elements in present day attempts to write history from an Indian perspective.

This reader wanted to know what I thought of this specific portion of the blog article.  Instead of responding to the reader in private, I am writing my response here.

My response

The comments of Shri Talageri are too generic to respond in a precise manner.

In any case, here is my response…

He has made an erroneous statement regarding usefulness of ‘Genetics’. This is because he has restricted himself, erroneously and without any scientific basis, to the timeframe of 4000 BCE as the time for the beginning of Indian civilization.

(I have shown that well established civilization existed around 13th millennium BCE and that was not the beginning of the Indian civilization, either).

I can much agree with what Shri Talageri has stated about misuse of data, arbitrary, whimsical and wishful usage of evidence, symbolic and wishful interpretations.  While he has restricted this criticism to the discipline of astronomy, the truth is that this is true of all other disciplines and thus his criticism applies to all other disciplines of study, without any discrimination, both in scale and scope.

In fact the focus on a specific discipline (either in its praise or criticism) is entirely misplaced.  Rather the focus should be on’All evidence’ and ‘testable evidence’ as opposed to ‘arbitrary or selective evidence’ and ‘metaphysical claims’.

Traits of 4 quadrants


The other disciplines such as linguistics, archeology, anthropology, numismatics, inscriptions, geology, seismology, hydrology, etc. have produced utter nonsense in the context of Indian history.

On the other hand, few researchers, using these very same disciplines (Shri Talageri included) have conducted original research that has contributed to our understanding and growth of Indian history.

In short, what Shri Talageri has said is indeed true, however the criticism is applicable to all disciplines of study and not limited to astronomy.

Let’s not be dogmatic and assign special status to the ancient discipline of Astronomy.

It is true that Astronomy is the only branch of science that is capable of providing precise dating of ancient Indian events, but even for this to occur, one has to be lucky to land on specific evidence and be able to test such evidence in a scientific manner so that anyone can verify the conclusions in a subject independent fashion.

In addition, although astronomy is the only discipline that is capable of, by luck – again, pointing out precise dates for the events of ancient India, its biggest contribution  is in its ability to restrict time intervals for specific events of ancient Indian history.

For example:

While AV observation, by itself is not capable of determining the specific year of Mahabharata war, it has falsified every single claim for the Mahabharata war that claims year of Mahabharata war after 4508 BCE!

What I am saying is that while astronomy evidence may not always be precise in defining when certain ancient event occurred, it is indeed precise in telling us when certain ancient Indian event may not/can not occur.

Thus disciplines of astronomy is humble in what it claims and still more precise that any other disciplines of scientific investigation.

As to the bigger point of ‘parameters’ that ought to be employed in writing Indian history, all I would emphasize is that evidence from all disciplines should be considered.  All relevant evidence should be considered as opposed to arbitrary or selective evidence that leads to hasty and wrong conclusions.  And finally, only that evidence that can be tested in a subject independent fashion can be employed in reaching inferences.  On the other hand, all ancient evidence, testable or not, should be preserved with utmost care.

The points are summarized in the framework diagram above.








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