Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sri Harsha of Kanauj - A monograph on the history of India in the first half of the 7th century AD. by K. M. Panikkar.
Before I write anything about this book, I want to share my dilemma. I am a teacher of history at a college level. I am expected to teach according to the requirement of a syllabus. However, by experience, I have found that the understanding which I am developing through regular reading revolts against the central ideas of the curriculum.
Secondly, there are many aspects of history and especially of Indian History, which I believe the country learns from the textbooks. By now, textbooks have developed into a compilation of some points and narratives which could be easily reproduced by the students to pass the course which they are pursuing at University level. It does not serve any purpose.
Thirdly, there is a general notion and view among the teachers that the history or for that matter any subject should be made easy for the students. What does that mean? If you understand and have thoroughly imbibed the concept, then you may demonstrate it in numerous ways. The Make it Easy brigade have obtained doctorates in their subjects. They might have gone through the rigour of the research methods. They might have attained a perception about their thesis which could only be obtained by hard work. Therefore, they were awarded the doctorate. Now, what do they say when they want to make a subject easy for the students? No doubt, they are not expected to train the students to become the research scholars. But, what do they mean to say to make a subject easy to understand? In this efforts, they are more inclined towards the textbooks.
While reading textbooks also, one come across gaps in the interpretations and explanations of the historical facts. I had felt this shortcoming when after learning about the Gupta dynasty, there was a sudden decline in the Indian history. In between, a period of Harsha emerges. In that period, the region was saved from the attack of the Huns. Harsha organised five-yearly religious festivals in which he propitiated Buddha idol along with other deities. However, after his reign, the Buddhism virtually died out in India. Now, why was it so? I have some clues about the answers, but there are many issues which are to be told in more clearer manner. History is about the nation, a region, and positively about the 'We the People' with which the constitution begins. But, what is the history of 'We the People'?.
Fourthly, the four-unit format had made many chapters redundant. The chapter on Harshvardhan is mostly included in the fourth unit. As a result, no one care to read much about that. There is nothing much to learn in the textbooks, especially in the format in which they are coming up – the so-called easier way of learning.
Fifthly, there is too much stress on regionalism. The main argument or rather the dominant answer by some pundits is that if you do not write about your region, then no one will come from outside to write for you. If you do not write about the history of your region, then no one from other regions will come to write it for you. You are the right source and medium to write about your region, and therefore you have to write about the region. Is India a Union of States or the United States? I do not want the people from Political Science to answer this question. They are living in a world of fallacy and before answering anyone that they should check that why their subject has carried the term Science with it. I may like to read a journalist if I am given a choice.
Now when I came across a monograph on Harsh Vardhan, it was an obvious choice. It was another incentive to learn about K. M. Panikkar. Therefore, I am writing about it with high expectations.
The book was published by D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Bombay( a publishing division of TATA sons in those days- not a listed company), in 1922.
It contains seven chapters including the Conclusion. A more detailed description follows.
Sardar KM Panikkar:
An ardent need is felt to emphasis that K. M. Panikkar, the author had expired in 1963. He was not a Marxist Historian (He defies all the favourite brands of the day.) and should not be identified with a Marxist historian with the similar surname and resembling initials. It was another thing that his daughter was married to a Communist leader. The other Panikkar is a Marxist historian who has generally associated himself with Bipin Chandra group apart from producing his individual works. Sardar K. M. Panikkar was an outright nationalist from South India. As a historian, as he had written in Atam Katha, that the Hinduism was the result of the fusion of Arya and Dravid which remained solid and unscratched under the onslaught of Muslim and European culture or Islam and Christianity. The fusion version of the age-old process which is presently comfortably called Hindu, merely made adjustments and arrangements in the field of society, economy and politics while facing the historical forces. The Marxist K. N. Panikkar would never approve of this theory and its working reality.
The Content of the Monograph:
The author has called it a Monograph. He has not used the phrases like A short history or A sixty minutes history and similar terms which are now becoming more popular.
There are 96 pages in the printed book. The content; the printed material on Shri Harsh Vardhan is spread over 82 pages. As already mentioned, there are seven essays. Six essays are related to Shri Harsh Vardhan. The name of the articles are as follows:
1. The Political Condition of India in the 6th century.
2. The Political Condition of the Reign of Harsh.
3. Harsh – the King.
4. The Social Condition of India in Harsha's Time
5. Harsh – the Poet.
The author has acknowledged with great emphasis that the contents of the fifth essay which is Harsh, the poet, is based on the material provided by Pandit Sastry A. D. Harisarma of Cochin.
Bibliography Essay – The Seventh Essay:
It also contains a bibliography essay. In the bibliography essay the author has discussed the two major primary sources; namely, Harishcharitra by Bana and Yuan Chwang Travels translated by Watter. It is pertinent to observe here, that the New Cambridge history started their publication from 1922 onwards. It is a feature of the New Cambridge publication which the author of each book gives an elaborate essay on the sources used to write his work. In such articles, nearly all the types of sources like primary sources, secondary sources, interviews, journals and other sources are discussed. In case of the essay by K. M. Panikkar, the author has considered only two primary sources. He has given references to numerous other sources, and many of them are primary sources, which are shown at the appropriate places in Footnotes. The essay is exclusively devoted to the two primary sources, which are the main focal point of seeking the information.
K. M. Pannikar started his carrier as a teacher of history. He left that job in between and worked for the Princely States in different capacities. After independence, he accepted the position of a diplomat. He ended his career as an academician. During this period, he wrote many researched based works. The historians, especially the university level scholars, had evaluated him differently. However, if one undertakes an independent evaluation of his work, there is every possibility that the fresh observer may not reconcile with the observations of the experts. His writings may sound as biased and tilted towards Hinduism. However, his scientific temperament is equally apparent in his work. The branded historians are not ready to accept his views probably because they dismantled their strongly held observations. On the reverse side, the writings of Pannikar reveal the gaps in the writing of history. In this work on Harsha, this conflict and debate are apparent.
After completing the reading of this book, I have read a book on the historiography of K. M. Panikkar by Tarasankar Banerjee. The title of the book is "Sardar K. M. Panikkar - The Profile of a Historian."
Tarasankar Banerjee has written some observations on the writing of K. M. Pannikar as a historian. I have found the following views of Tarasankar Banerjee quite relevant for the book on Harsha Vardhan. They are given below.
Panikkar approach to history is not based on a technician's outlook but based on an appreciative and refreshing mind of an idealist and imaginative scholar to whom history was an art and not simply an autopsy of the past. (Sardar Panikkar historiography pp.17)
In the more simpler terms, it has been said of the author in an earlier referred source that Panikkar had a passionately sympathetic and imaginative mind. This very aspect of his analytic mind is depicted in his work on Sri Harsha of Kanauj.
He wanted to impress upon us is that the compartmentalisation of Indian History tinged with a narrow regional feeling may have a disastrous consequence on the basic unity of Indian culture. (pp 113, Sardar K M Panikkar).