Book Review: The Nay Science by Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee
In our growing years, elders waxed eloquent on the Germans enthusiastically learning Sanskrit and our scriptures while we shamelessly turned away from them. It filled us with remorse and a tinge of pride too that foreigners gave importance to our languages and culture. However, little did we realize that there was a deep distortion and a silent agenda at work by the so-called Sanskrit scholars of Germany-the Indologists. The authors in this voluminous and scholarly work deconstruct the Indologists. The unmasking is done with extreme care and with huge references without leaving any loopholes in their arguments. They prove that the enterprise of German Indology was wholly dubious and needs a direct rejection.
The authors use German studies on the Mahabharata and the Bhagavadgita as the main texts to reverse the critical gaze on them. The Indologists worked with the basic premise that the Mahabharata was a ‘monstrous and a chaotic’ epic. Their thesis and scholarship revolved around a strong idea that many layers surround a basic core in the text. According to them, the core was the Kaurava-Pandava Kurukshetra war primarily making the text a war-narrative. Added layers and layers of texts over time corrupted this core, and the job of the Indologists was to strip the layers off and project the original. The Indologists claimed that this core originally had connections with the brave Aryans of the German past later morphing into the Kshatriyas. The Kurukshetra war was in fact between the White Aryans and the Black Dravidians. All kinds of racial and religious elements entered the discourse. Holtzmann and his successors such as Fitzgerald claimed that the original war poem was purely in an oral form in form of ballads in the courts of kings. In their view, the Buddhists got the ballads all together to give the Mahabharata a written form. And who else could corrupt a primary pure narrative with toxic philosophical and theological chemicals? The Brahmins of course.
The authors use the technique of logical argumentation to show why this thesis cannot work.
The Brahmins had four main charges against them by the Indologists, which the authors quote:
- They not just neglected their historical science, but intentionally obscured and falsified it.
- All the corruption of history of their Scholastics and Catholic priests is child’s play compared to the systematic falsification and destruction of all history by the Brahmans. Thus, German Indology, trapped in its own problems of Catholicism, Protestantism, priestly hegemony, and religious frictions, interpreted our scriptures through its own prisms and lenses. Unfortunately, Indologists also believed it to be the correct scientific view, not requiring a dialogue with the traditional-commentatorial approach Indian scholars while dealing with the texts.
- The Brahmins eliminated thus all sense for the historical in their people, so that even European scholars received the impression that one could not speak of internal history and development in India but only of permanence and ossification.
- The greatest enemy of Brahmanism is the historical spirit and hence, the Brahmin declares the world has always been the same and will always remain the same. The Indologists saw the eternal Dharma principles transcending time and space, an integral part of the texts of Mahabharata and Gita, as layered interpolations into the core text of the war.
The Pandavas were in fact a primitive tribe and not truly Aryans; endowed with primitive customs like polyandry and polygamy. Krishna was a mean politician who never fights in the war but instigates the Pandavas to remove the Kauravas, the original heroes and the Aryan brethren. The roots of this text are in some ancient German lore, which obviously is untraceable, but needs an intensive search.
This primary story of the war was later changed many times by the corrupt Brahmin priestly class to project their philosophy. The priests succeeded in creating a new story by removing the Kshatriyas from their primary place. The priestly retelling of the story (redaction) developed the theme of Krishna as a God, Pandavas as heroes, and Kauravas as the villains. The Buddhists too came into this lively picture as the Indologists reconstructed the Mahabharata text. The Buddhists collected the ballads into the first written texts. The Hindu priests corrupted the pristine war text into a theological-philosophical doctrine. These are just a few examples of the kind of alterations the Indologists sought in their interpretations and tried to make mainstream. The authors trace wonderfully the origin and development of these thoughts in German Indology. All these seem shocking to us, but these ideas became mainstream scholarship even as our core values and traditions were seriously undermined.
Similarly, the Bhagwadgita was originally a short piece of poetry where the original hero Duryodhana is addressing the Kauravas at the start of the war. It transformed completely into a huge poem of eighteen chapters where Lord Krishna now addresses the good guy Arjuna. Amongst the many arguments, the most oft-used, of course, is how can a conversation lasting eighteen chapters happen at the beginning of the war. Individual scholars applied their ideology and interpretation to mercilessly chop verses and chapters from the Gita. The original Gita of Indian studies came into serious question by papers, books, and peer-reviews of a closed circle of German Indologists. Of course, the time-narrative with its theological-philosophical implications were interpolations of the ubiquitous and uncontested corrupt Brahmanical villains. Most of Indological scholarship was a polemic against the Brahmins, a reflection of the Indologists’ own biases against the Catholic church.
Anyway, the Gita was a truly short piece and as thought fit by various Indologists, different lengths of the poem had random execution at the guillotine. One Indologist thought that the original Gita was only 26 or so verses! Some believed that chapter two was the end of the Gita poem. The editings which they applied on the Gita is even more horrific considering the amount of respect Indians have for it. The Gita is the core text of Hindu scriptures which summarises the entire philosophy of the Vedas and the Upanishads. Some authorities consider Mahabharata with its enclosed Gita as the fifth Veda suitable for the masses and for all correct reasons.
The method for reading the texts was a historical-critical approach, a reading of Mahabharata and Gita through the prism of time and history. The events narrated are a product of those times and the historical method gives time a prominent place in the scheme of things. From a historical perspective, the Indologists could use the texts to construct a history of ancient India and how finally the Germans were related to the mythic Aryan race. The Aryans of Germany and Europe came to India, fought the dark Dravidian warriors, and drove then South. This was a popular theme of the Indologists including Max Mueller. Unfortunately, we have completely internalized this toxic narrative so much so that despite mountains of evidence against it, our academia and intellectuals are still holding on to it.
The authors plainly and clearly show the fallacy in the historical-critical approach to analyzing Sanskrit texts. The Germans did not understand the theological-philosophical perspectives of the Mahabharata and Gita transcending time and place. Indologists simply chopped off the verses which looked philosophical or theological. Only the verses depicting action or a proper conversation regarding people or events were retained. The scripture reading needs a lot of grounding in language, grammar, logic, meter along with faith and humility, which the Indologists were obviously deficient in. The authority for deciphering the texts became an earlier German authority and the whole scholarship was based on a close circle of like-minded German Indologists creating their own legends, myths, and interpretations.
The Indologists set up chairs in the Universities and indulged in back patting and internal criticisms propagating the field, producing papers while simultaneously ignoring the Indian view. There was a complete white-washing of the traditional commentatorial approach of Indian scholars like Shankara, Madhva, and so on. No dialogue or engagement occurred as the closed circle of Indologists happily edited and interpreted the Sanskrit texts in isolation.
The Germans also projected their own Protestant agendas in reading the scriptures as a polemic against the priestly class. The purity of the people and the warriors underwent total corruption because the priests wanted control. Their apprehensions and anxieties against Catholicism and a priestly hegemony were at the core of their textual interpretations. The most amazing thing is that few of the Indologists ever traveled to India as chairs were set up in Universities to give credibility to their views and opinions. They thought it was unnecessary even as they depended on their English and French colleagues to do the actual dirty work of procuring the manuscripts and texts.
Philology is the study of texts and this became their core methodology later to establish the scientific nature of their enterprise. This subject of human sciences became their argument against all criticisms. The authors devote a whole chapter to discuss the differences between the natural sciences and the human sciences. Using the principles of positivism, empiricism, and historicism, a huge enterprise tried to establish the methodology of philology as scientific; and comparable to natural sciences.
Auguste Comte, the French philosopher coined ‘positivism’. Comte proposed that society evolved in three stages of intellectual development: the religious, the metaphysical, and finally the scientific or ‘positive’. He proposed a hierarchy of sciences starting with mathematics, progressing to physics, then chemistry, then biology, and finally sociology. Sociology or human studies in this paradigm hence is a scientific enterprise. Positivism rejects theology and metaphysics and restrict true knowledge to data obtained by senses, experiment, and observation. With unobservable ‘atoms’, the positivists fell into a trap when they called it ‘convenient fiction’. The positivists in the 20th century began to focus more on logic and language giving rise to logical positivism. The latter states that any proposition must be verifiable to have meaning. A general statement stating for example, ‘Humans are a species of animals’, can be tested against the definition of the words used and the grammatical structure. Empiricism hold that all knowledge comes only from experience.
The authors show that the supports of empiricism, positivism, and historicism in making philology worthy of a science, which in turn could modify the Mahabharata and the Gita in varied forms of different lengths, was deeply flawed. The authors quote Ludwig Wittgenstein who suggested that the meaning of a word or expression depends on its use-which means the social conventions. Hence, to see scientific nature in textual interpretation amounts to nothing but a hoax. The parameters to define what is truly scientific themselves come into question as the authors trace the history of their ideas and their criticisms. The take-home message of course was that interpretational modes cannot really qualify as science. Methods and final conclusions which cannot give rise to any sort of predictions for the future is bad science.
Indology fails at the biggest definition of being scientific that holds ground today- the ‘falsifiability’ of Karl Popper. A statement or theory should be falsifiable or proven wrong by carefully conducted experiments. Or it just remains a good theory. The latest physics superstar and superbrat called the ‘string theory’ suffers from this same problem, hence is in a difficult position to gain acceptance. By the definition of falsifiability, philology fails completely as a science. The illusion of many sociologists and especially Indologists in trying to present the human studies (or ‘sciences’) as truly scientific hence comes into deep and troubling waters.
Exegesis, nugatory, sacralization, redaction, emancipatory, hermeneutics– the words flow thick and strong along with an army of philosophical terms and German words. This makes the text difficult to read even for somebody who claims to have a reasonable hold over the English language. It would always do well to have the dictionary app while reading the book. It is a joy and a challenge to go through the book, but in a few places, it may become incredibly stressful. However, one should persist with these short interludes to discover the truth of German scholarship. Indians need and deserve a simplified version of the book. A physicist should be able to explain physics to a bartender; similarly, the authors should be able to explain this book clearly to all English-speaking people, especially the Indians. The authors have addressed the experts and the apologists; however, the laypeople need to understand the horrors perpetrated by the German Indologists on our texts and scriptures, who in short told us how to read our own scriptures. The Tamilian creates the Dosa and the world tells him how to eat it with forks and knives.
Deep sadness enveloped me while reading the book on realizing that as the English, French, Dutch, Portuguese were plundering us at a material level during the colonial era, the Germans attacked us at a cultural level. They indulged in gross distortions of our cultural roots in unimaginable ways, setting up stories and narratives lasting even today. The Aryan invasion theory was a creation of this German Indology. The authors are extremely persuasive in the scholarly construction of arguments. The language is never impolite. However, the effect finally is that the Indologists get a merciless lashing with a thorn-tipped whip after stuffing them into a gunny bag! The sympathy for the Indologists was equal to how one would feel when a Nazi war criminal goes to the gallows. No less a crime was committed on us by the German Indologists.
German Indology is redundant today and perhaps irrelevant for most people in India and abroad. However, this scholarship had some important consequences we are facing even today. Most important, the Aryan theory simply refuses to go away. It has created a near-permanent fission amongst Indians in a bizarre North-South divide. The entire politics of Tamil Nadu is based on a Dravidian ideology which has permeated to the core of everyone involved. It is always sad to meet a Tamilian who says that he/she is a Dravidian and sees a separate identity from the rest of the country.
Any narrative to counter this meets with incredible resistance from the ill-informed citizens and politicians, the partly informed media, and an agenda filled academia. The post-colonial and the post-Independence academia unfortunately subscribed to a Marxist ideology with its deeply embedded concepts of time and history. They continued with the German Indological tradition of reading and interpreting texts through a time narrative. There was a complete ignoring of the spiritual and philosophical traditions to protect secularist principles of a ‘New India’.
Second, this has now morphed into a more vicious form of Indology emanating from American universities. Rajiv Malhotra worries about them in his books, ‘Academic Hinduphobia’ and ‘The Battle for Sanskrit’. Again, we have allowed the outsiders- in the sense that they do not give importance to our tradition- to control the narrative. The origin of the experts of course does not define insiders and outsiders. A person who accepts the traditional view and not succumb to the time-bound narratives; a person who reads with a sense of humility and accepts the author of the text is smarter than the reader (as Vishwa Adluri says); and a person who seeks salvation in the texts—this is what separates the insider from the outsider. Michel Danino and David Frawley are insiders; and there are clearly plenty of ‘outsiders’- proper Indians, especially the Marxist scholars and historians, who place time and history as the essence of everything.
The likes of Wendy Doniger and Sheldon Pollock produce complex theories in dense language attacking our myths, cultures, and traditions sitting in their universities; and we sadly and dangerously accept them as the mainstream narrative. There is replication of the same problems as with the Germans. There is no dialogue with the traditional Indian scholars as this scholarship descends into a monologue. The mutual give and take; the patting and applauding of each other in a closed circle of researchers, scholars, academic posts, travel grants, and awards too, give an eerie resemblance to the dreadful scholarship of German Indology. Of course, the German Indologists never travelled anywhere.
The last chapter is on how Gandhi saw the text of the Gita. Indians connect to the Gita as a source of inspiration and a code for daily living. It means many things to many people and Gandhi is one of the splendid examples of our relationship with the Gita. Shankara’s and Swami Chinmayananda’s commentaries on the Gita are a constant source of inspiration for many, including myself. The Mahabharata and the Gita promise salvation to their readers. Shankara precisely promises moksha in the beginning of his Gita commentary. Shankara sought to bring the routes of devotion, action, and knowledge into a comprehensive solution for salvation in the Gita commentary. We read the Gita daily not as a scripture to be analyzed and criticized from a superior plane, but extremely humbly to find solutions to our daily problems with an eye on the final goal. All our texts and scriptures teach just that- our daily solutions and the final goals. These messages are eternal beyond time and space. A culture where a majority cremate bodies after death speaks clearly on the non-importance of time in the cosmic scheme. The Mahabharata and the Gita are timeless classics helping to pull humans out of their grind; and the Indologists of all times simply could not grasp that.
The authors beautifully sum up the book in the last lines:
In the case of Indology, the institutional and hegemonic aspects have so dominated the disciplinary aspects that we can no longer ask the most elementary questions of science: for whom and for what good? Since this science no longer has a positive motivation such as the reappropriation of tradition or the upholding of ethical values, its effects are negative and nugatory. In Carne-Ross’s memorable words, “if the humanities failed to humanize us”, it is “because we deprived them of their humanity by alternately aestheticizing them and handing them over to scholarship”. In this sense, German Indology is truly worthy of the epithet “the nay science”.
It would be a mistake and a disservice if we silently accept the distortions of our texts by outsiders. We need to understand and fight these toxic narratives as Krishna exhorted Arjuna in the Gita. Strangely, Indologists construed this call to Arjuna as an example of the Gita encouraging violence! The reading of ‘The Nay Science’ is an important ammunition to fight such attacks on our culture and heritage.
This article is neither a summary nor a review of the fantastic book. I am too unqualified to be critiquing and the book is too voluminous for an attempt at a concise summary. This is simply a personal tribute to a phenomenal book. A thousand pranaams to the authors Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee who have done a great service to the cause of our national heritage and culture. Just reading the book generated so much anger; I can only imagine the exasperation which they must have felt while authoring this book. Fortunately, the tone is well controlled, and the scholarly rebuttal of the Indologists never becomes a diatribe or a polemic. I repeat and plead here, the country deserves a simplified version of the book.
Featured Image: Amazon, Swarajya