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Hindutva, Mythistory, and Pseudoarchaeology

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Abstract This essay elucidates ideologically-inspired interpretations of the South Asian archeological record, particularly by those called Hindutvādins, and those who write about (and against) them. I first survey briefly the chief points in the history of archaeology in examining the Indus Valley Civilization. Next, I describe some of the major controversies that reflect claims of Hindutva pseudoarchaeology in the South Asian context. Throughout, I illustrate the increasingly virulent interactions between Hindutva proponents, indigenist theorists, and academic interpreters, and what these debates foretell of the future of Indus Valley studies.

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39. FN1 1)The subjects introduced in this essay — the Indus Valley Civilization, the nature of the “Aryan,” the Aryan “Invasion” and/or “Migration” Theory, the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya — are among the most controversial one encounters in South Asian studies today. I have consulted well over one hundred articles, books, and archaeological reports (not to mention many web sites), that all address questions regarding the so-called Indo-Aryan or Vedic people in what is today India, Pakistan, and parts of Afghanistan. My work here is meant to provide background into the issues and to document major accusations of pseudoarchaeology and pseudoscience, not to assert the “truth” about the archaeological finds and their history themselves.
40. FN2 2)I find useful Richard King’s succinct explanatory definition: “Simplistically speaking, we can speak of two forms of Orientalist discourse, the first, generally antagonistic and confident in European Superiority, the second, generally affirmative, enthusiastic and suggestive of Indian superiority in certain key areas. Both forms of Orientalism, however, make essentialist judgements which foster an overly simplistic and homogenous conception of Indian culture” (King 1999:184). For an accessible and relatively short article elucidating greater complexities in the use of the term Orientalism in the specific context of Indology and South Asian historiography, see Peter Heehs (2003). And to complicate things further, Sheldon Pollock has criticized the neglect of studying ‘Pre-Orientalist “Orientalism,”’ arguing that it is not possible “to survey the constructions of colonial domination without a detailed topography of precolonial domination” (Pollock 1993:104).
41. FN3 3)The term “prehistory” was “introduced into English in 1851 to denote that longer past into which texts do not reach, and within which the study of material culture comes into its own for the first time” (Trautmann and Sinopoli 2002:497, citing Glyn Daniel’s 1962 book, The Idea of Prehistory).
42. FN4 4)Max Müller thought he understood the Veda “better and more correctly” through the science of language because he held to the view that “although the European shared a cultural heritage with the Vedic people, this ancient tradition had actually been lost to the Indians in the post-Ṛgvedic period” (Tull 1991:40).
43. FN5 5)And perhaps this development was none too soon. One of the greatest archaeological losses for humanity occurred in 1856, when British engineers John and William Brunton were laying the East Indian Railway Company line that would connect Karachi and Lahore. John Brunton needed to find ballast for the line of the railway, and after having been told of an ancient ruined city near the lines, called Brahminabad, he found it full of hard well-burnt bricks. What we now know was an IVC site was reduced to ballast. His brother William Brunton used bricks from yet another ruined city further north (which had already been used as a quarry by villagers in the nearby village of Harappa at the same site). Together, the Brunton brothers were responsible for using millennia-old IVC bricks as ballast for nearly one hundred miles of the railroad track running from Karachi to Lahore.
44. FN6 6)Hiuen-Tsiang had spent sixteen years in India during the mid-seventh century, c.e., and his visits to various locations, even to this day, are treated in large part as an important historical resource.
45. FN7 7)Diffusion posits that innovations in the archaeological record must be evidence for the movements of a particular people. For an unflinching postcolonial analysis of Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s legacy, see Chadha 2002.
46. FN8 8)Sharma is here referring to Frykenberg 1989:31.
47. FN9 9)B.K. Smith (1996:21) suggests that the “ ‘Hinduism’ (or ‘Hindu-ness,’ hindutva) conceived by the leaders of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha [w]as inextricably linked to the developing concept of Indian national identity. All this was made easy (not to say possible) by the body of Western scholarship that insisted upon India’s ‘spiritual’ essence and Hinduism’s infinitely protean form. The modern reincarnation of Hindu nationalism (what I would suggest may be the ‘second wave’ of the movement) in the guise of the so-called ‘Sangh Parivār’ activists has also embraced both the non-definition of Hinduism quareligion, as well as the conjunction of ‘Hindu-ness’ and Indian national identity.”
48. FN10 10)RSS leader M.S. Golwalkar wrote, “Hypothesis is not truth. Out of the heap of hypotheses we reject all and positively maintain that we Hindus came into this land from nowhere, but are indigenous children of the soil always, from times immemorial and are natural masters of the country” (1939:8–9).
49. FN11 11)“V.D. Savarkar and Mahatma Gandhi may be regarded as the patron saints of the two distinct forms of Hinduism [viz., a world religion and all things Indian] the ambiguity of the word Hindu gave rise to. Paradoxical as it might appear, both these trends arose out of the same problematic — that of defining Hinduism” (Sharma 2002:21).
50. FN12 12)Entire books have been written on this subject (e.g., Lele 1995, Hansen 1999). For a briefer but still useful synopsis, see Sharma 2002:23ff.
51. FN13 13)“The dispute over the Masjid, constructed in 1528 by Mir Baqui, a noble of Babur’s court, had simmered for long, at least since 1885 when litigation had begun for the right to property in the area. What brought about a qualitative change in the dispute was the surreptitious installation of an idol of Ramlalla inside the mosque in 1949. Ayodhya thus became a potential site of religious confrontation between the Hindus and the Muslims. The BJP effectively exploited this potential in its quest for political power” (Panikkar 1997:63).

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Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, Claremont McKenna College 500 East Ninth Street, Claremont, CA 91711 USA


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