Anything that moves

Rani Padmini and four other Hindutva history myths exploded

As it turns out, some commonly held stories about our 5,000-year-old past simply aren't true.

The biggest news story coming out of India in 2014 was the triumph at the polls of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Led by the charismatic Narendra Modi, the BJP achieved what many considered impossible: an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. Modi and a number of his colleagues subscribe to ideas I have described in a previous column as Raving Loony Hindutva History. The BJP’s misreading of history, however, is also underpinned by versions of history that circulate as truth within the mainstream. Here, in reverse chronological order, I list five major myths that have gained mainstream acceptance in India.

1. The Myth of Rani Padmini

In 1303 AD, Alauddin Khilji, the Turkic Sultan of Delhi, captured Chittorgarh after a long siege. Two hundred and thirty-seven years later, an Awadhi poet named Malik Muhammad Jayasi composed a poem titled Padmavat about the fall of Chittor. The tale was picked up in succeeding eras by historians such as the chronicler of Akbar’s reign Abul Fazl.

The story of Padmini varies from one writer to another but the basic contours are similar. A sorcerer banished by the king of Mewar Ratan Singh finds refuge in the Khilji court, where he fills the Sultan’s ears with tales of the beauty of Ratan Singh’s wife, Padmini. Alauddin manages to get a glimpse of her, and is enraptured. He captures Ratan Singh by deceit, and offers to release him in exchange for Padmini. The Rajputs hatch a cunning stratagem to free their king, but lose several warriors in the process. Alauddin defeats the weakened Rajput army, only to discover that Padmini and all other women in Chittor fort have committed jauhar.

Rani Padmini is not mentioned in any Rajput or Sultanate annals, and there’s absolutely no historical evidence she existed. Alauddin Khilji, one of the finest generals in India’s military history, certainly required no treachery to subdue Chittor. He repelled successive Mongol invasions while conquering much of Rajasthan and Gujarat. But what has survived of him is the image of a lustful, deceitful, tyrant pitted against chivalrous Rajputs.

2. The Myth of Prithviraj Chauhan

History, they say, is written by the winners. The best poetry, though, is often composed by the losers and, in India at least, outweighs historical accounts. Prithviraj Chauhan ruled Delhi in the late 12th century AD. In 1191, the Afghan ruler Muhammad Ghuri took the fortress of Bhatinda on the border of Prithviraj’s kingdom. Prithviraj advanced towards the frontier, and met and defeated Ghuri’s army at Tarain. The next year, Ghuri returned with a stronger force, defeated Prithviraj, and had him executed.

Pretty standard give-and-take for that age. In the hands of Prithviraj’s court poet Chand Bardai, and several later writers who embellished the narrative, the chivalrous Prithviraj defeated and imprisoned Ghuri, but generously set him free. The foe returned, attacked unfairly at night, captured and blinded the Rajput king, and took him back to his capital. Prithviraj’s companion convinced Ghuri to let the blind king demonstrate his skill as an archer. Instructed by the companion, Prithviraj killed Muhammad Ghuri before ending his own life in a suicide pact.

I grew up believing this to be historical truth, thanks to the volume of Amar Chitra Katha about Prithviraj’s life. I suppose children today watching television serials about Prithviraj and Padmini swallow the same fictions. It is noteworthy that no cases have been filed in any Indian court against these erroneous retellings of Indian history.

3. The Myth of a Non-Violent India

“…our religion is truer than any other religion, because it never conquered, because it never shed blood.” Swami Vivekananda, who assiduously propagated the myth of peaceful India, often used “religion”, “nation” and “race” interchangeably. In Colombo in 1897, he said, “India has for thousands of years peacefully existed… We, of all nations of the world, have never been a conquering race, and that blessing is on our head.” Ironically, Sri Lanka is one of the countries that Indian kings (Hindu ones at that, for in such a reckoning only Hindu kings count) have repeatedly invaded. The Cholas also launched naval expeditions against towns and regions across South-East Asia in the 11th century AD.

Hindu rulers rarely hesitated to invade neighbouring domains, with all the killing and plunder associated with the business. If they rarely ventured outside the subcontinent, it had less to do with a reluctance to shed blood or invade foreign lands than with the juicier targets close to home. A simple cost-benefit analysis explains why it made sense for Afghan and Turkic cavalry to raid the fertile Indian plains, and no sense for Indian kings to transport their elephants, thousands of foot-soldiers, and complicated supply lines into the mountains to conquer a land of sheep herders. Shah Jahan tried invading Samarkand, out of a sense of duty to his forebears, and his army paid a terrible price.

4. The Myth of Sanskrit

Sanskrit has produced a marvellous quantity of hymns, philosophical meditations, poems, epics, plays, and treatises. It is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most culturally significant languages in the world. What it is not is the “mother of all languages”, or even the foundational tongue of the branch to which is belongs, known as the Indo-European family of languages.

The first person to discover this language family, William Jones, suggested back in 1786 that Sanskrit, Latin and Greek, “have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists”. He was exactly right. That source is now called proto-Indo-European, and is considered to have been spoken in the vicinity of the Black Sea around 5,500 to 6,000 years ago.

In India, though, the idea is anathema that an ancestor of Sanskrit was spoken by pastoral nomads living in what is modern-day Turkey and Ukraine. For that would make Sanskrit essentially a language like many others. Which is what it is.

 5The Myth of a 5,000-year-old civilisation

Our Foreign minister Sushama Swaraj recently attended a function celebrating the 5151st anniversary of the Bhagavad Gita. That dating belongs to Raving Loony Hindutva History, but the 5,000 year mark is commonly used to describe everything connected with Hindu culture. The Vedas? At least 5,000 years old. Ayurveda? 5,000 years old. Yoga, 5,000 years old, or a little more. Indian art? 5,000 years old. Mathematics, astronomy, grammar, you name it, it is all 5,000 years old.

In truth, almost nothing in India is 5,000 years old. The ruins of the Harappan civilisation come closest, but the artefacts that have survived, aside from a few pot shards, don’t date earlier than 2500 BC. The earliest literature we have was composed about 3,500 years ago, and there’s precious little art that’s datable to a period before 500 BC. India’s major mathematical achievements originated almost exclusively in the medieval era, while the asanas used in contemporary yoga have, in a majority of cases, an illustrated or descriptive history going back little over a century.

The fake 5,000-year figure plays into the hands of those who believe India once enjoyed a golden age before it was corrupted by, take your pick, the Kalyug, Muslim invaders, British imperialists, all of the above.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Han Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.