Editor’s Note: In the ‘Book of the Month’ series this month, we explore our theme of sincerity in the field of Indian history writing. We feature here excerpts from a couple of introductory chapters from a book authored by Prof. Kittu Reddy. Prof. Reddy is a long-time resident of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and teacher of Indian History and Culture at Sri Aurobindo International Center of Education. The book, as the author states, is an attempt to interpret the events of Indian history from a subjective point of view. This does not mean that external events are any less important; rather they gain greater importance when seen in the light of the inner psychological vision and deeper forces behind them.
It was in February 1973. Three teachers of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education were having a discussion with the Mother on education. During the discussion the Mother remarked that it was necessary that the books on History, and more particularly, on Indian History be written in the light of Sri Aurobindo. She looked at me and suggested that I could take up this work. That is the genesis of this book.
~ Kittu Reddy
Many years earlier, Sri Aurobindo had written in The Human Cycle:
“The objective view of society has reigned throughout the historical period of humanity in the West; it has been sufficiently strong though not absolutely engrossing in the East. Rulers, people, and thinkers alike have understood by their national existence a political status, the extent of their borders, their economic well-being and expansion, their laws, institutions and the working of these things. For this reason political and economic motives have everywhere predominated on the surface and history has been a record of their operations and influence. The one subjective and psychological force consciously admitted and with difficulty deniable has been that of the individual. This predominance is so great that most modern historians and some political thinkers have concluded that objective necessities are by law of Nature the only really determining forces; all else is result or superficial accidents of these forces. Scientific history has been conceived as if it must be a record and appreciation of the environmental motives of political action, of the play of economic forces and developments and the course of institutional evolution. The few who still valued the psychological element have kept their eye fixed on individuals and are not far from conceiving of history as a mass of biographies. The truer and more comprehensive science of the future will see that these conditions only apply to the imperfectly self-conscious period of national development. Even then there was always a greater subjective force working behind individuals, policies, economic movements and the change of institutions; but it worked for the most part subconsciously, more as a subliminal self than as a conscious mind”.(CWSA, Vol. 25, pp. 36-37)
This book is an attempt to write the history of India from the subjective viewpoint, without in any way distracting from the external events; on the contrary it will enhance greatly and give meaning to the objective narration of external events that took place. The Indian people are by nature subjective in their approach to life; the stress in India has always been more on the inside than on the outside. This inwardness has been one of the striking features of Indian culture.
An India without the great Vedic and Upanishadic scriptures and the spiritual personalities of Rama and Krishna would not be India any more. A study and appreciation of Indian history, therefore, demands more particularly a subjective understanding and appreciation. It may even be said that the study of Indian history demands an approach that values the impact of the highest truths and thought found in India’s greatest scriptures, literature and mythology as well as the influence of the ideals lived and taught by Rama, Krishna, Buddha and a long list of Rishis and Saints. The impact of such inner forces in shaping the outer history of India is thus a key topic of inquiry for this book.
Secondly, it is evident to serious thinkers that all human behaviour, whether on the individual or the collective plane, is the direct consequence of the inner psychological state. In this book an attempt has been made to interpret the events of Indian history from a psychological point of view. This does not mean that external events are any less important; rather they gain greater importance when seen in the light of the inner psychological vision and deeper forces behind them. The significance of external events lies in the meaning that a true subjectivism and an inward approach to knowledge alone can give.
One of the most powerful subjective forces in history has been that of the individual. There have been times in the history of a nation when events have revolved around an individual personality. This book lays much stress on the impact of individual personalities.
It must be however mentioned that this book does not cover all the details of Indian history; that was not the intention. It gives a general overview of Indian history with emphasis on the subjective element. It is hoped that this book will help in giving a direction to the study of history from the inner point of view and will lead to a deeper understanding of the role of history.
CHAPTER I: THE STUDY OF HISTORY
WHAT DOES HISTORY TEACH US?
History as it is commonly understood is the story of man. It is the story of his evolution from his early primitive state to the more developed being that he is now. This may also be seen as the growth of civilisation and culture. We learn how he made use of his early tools and gradually controlled and mastered his environment; we study the growth of his political and social systems, of the building and breaking of kingdoms and empires. We see the growth of art and culture in all its diverse forms and the enrichment of his inner life. In sum we see how man has evolved over the ages.
But what exactly is meant by evolution? When we say that man has evolved, we mean that he has developed a new power of consciousness and awareness. This power enables him to become conscious not only of the world around him but also of his inner world. In other words, he becomes both conscious and self-conscious; and this is possible because he has developed a new power and faculty called Reason. It is this faculty, which marks the great difference between man and animal.
To this is added another quality, which is the unique privilege of man – the Intelligent Will. The Intelligent will is the quality, which enables him to implement and put into practice what his mind, and reason understand and see. These two powers – Reason and Intelligent Will – are the secret of his evolutionary progress. We see the application of these two powers in all the fields of human activity – the pure and practical sciences, his social and political development, his art, and culture and in all the fields of knowledge. Therefore, while studying History, which deals mainly with the external record of human life, it becomes critically important to keep in mind this fundamental fact that human progress is primarily due to these two powers – Reason and Intelligent Will.
But at the same time, there has been in man another urge – a greater aspiration, which has led him to a power higher than Mind; this power is the spiritual power. There have been periods in history, when both individuals and masses of men have been moved or at least touched by this higher force. This is especially true in Indian history, although it has played a role in other civilisations. These periods have had great and beneficent results in human life. We must keep this too in mind in studying history.
To summarize, the study of history deals with the external events of human life in its different aspects; but at the same time we must remember that the forces that activate these events and human progress are Reason and Intelligent Will and a higher power, the Spiritual power.
WHAT ARE THE SOURCES OF HISTORY?
It is a natural question that we all must ask: how do we know what has happened so many thousands of years ago? What are the sources of our knowledge? There are broadly speaking four main sources of ancient history:
- new technological methods
Archaeology has been one of the most important sources of ancient history. It is the scientific study of material remains of past human life and activities; this includes the study of fossils, relics, monuments etc. Sometimes these are found on the surface of the earth and experts and scientists take them up and make detailed investigations; very often, however excavations deep below the surface are needed for such studies. Remarkable discoveries are made in such excavations. Most of us are familiar with the examples of Mohenjodaro and Harappa sites in India and the example of Troy in Asia Minor; whole townships have been found and have helped us get a good view of the society, life and culture of the people of those times.
Literature and Legends
Another important source of our knowledge of the past is literature. The ancient literature of humanity consists of epics, dramas, poetry and scriptures; all these give us a great deal of information on the life and thought of ancient man. The epics, in particular, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in India and the Iliad in Greece have given us a very clear picture of ancient civilisations. The two Indian epics give us not only a vivid description of the political and social systems but also a fine depiction of the values and ideals that moved the people of India in those times; many of these values are still cherished by the Indian people and to this date have a profound effect on the masses of India. Sri Aurobindo explains the significance of these epics in these words:
“A profound stress of thought on life, a large and vital view of religion and society, a certain strain of philosophic idea runs through these poems and the whole ancient culture of India is embodied in them with a great force of intellectual conception and living presentation.”(CWSA, Vol. 20, pp. 345-346)
Similarly the scriptures of a people, like the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita reveal to us the religion and the deeper spiritual values of the Indian people. They have had a profound impact and have created movements that have influenced Indian history; the same can be said of the dramas and poetry. No doubt it will be said that there is a lot of imagination and fiction in the literature of a people and they do not constitute history in its true sense; it is even doubted by many that Christ or Krishna ever existed and yet none can deny their influence on large masses of men and in history. To quote again from Sri Aurobindo:
“There are four very great events in history, the siege of Troy, the life and crucifixion of Christ, the exile of Krishna in Brindavun and the colloquy with Arjuna on the field of Kurukshetra. The siege of Troy created Hellas, the exile in Brindavun created devotional religion, (for before there was only meditation and worship,) Christ from his cross humanised Europe, the colloquy at Kurukshetra will yet liberate humanity. Yet it is said that none of these four events ever happened. ”(CWSA, Vol. 12, p. 427)
We now begin to see that the external life of man is greatly influenced by the thoughts and the psychological forces that move him, and these must therefore be given their due place in the study of history.
New Technological Methods
Today, many new methods are being used by historians. These include satellite photography, carbon dating and many other methods which we need not discuss here. Suffice it to say that with the advance of technology we are able to get more and more precise information about the past of man.
WHAT IS THE RELATION BETWEEN EXTERNAL EVENTS AND THE PSYCHOLOGICAL STATE?
One of the key points we emphasise in this book is the interrelationship of the inner and outer worlds of man; in other words, does the psychological condition of man influence and affect his outer behaviour and circumstances or is it the external conditions and circumstances that determine his life? We shall try to show in this book that though man is a material being and is affected by his material environment, he is essentially a mind and at a more evolved stage a spiritual being.
Let us look at a few examples of events in history where the influences of the idea and thought-power have contributed greatly to the external events. One such example has been the French Revolution. It is generally understood that the French Revolution came about mainly because of political and economic reasons; there is certainly no doubt that the poverty and the food shortages played an important part; similarly the political system based on the total domination of the upper classes contributed greatly to the onset of the revolution. But it cannot be denied that the intellectuals of France also played a very important role in awakening the people. There can be no doubt that the writings of Rousseau and Voltaire and other writers and intellectuals made all the difference; for in the other countries of Europe the political and economic conditions were even worse. It was really the ideas of the intellectuals that shaped the course of events.
Similarly, it was due to the writings of Karl Marx and Engels that over a century later the Russian revolution took place. The power of the idea plays a very important part in the historical evolution of man.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL?
This is another critical question that concerns the study of history. What is the role of the individual in human progress and in human life in general? In fact does the individual have any role to play at all or is it that progress and change is a movement of the masses and general forces that drive human beings? We shall try to show in this book the great importance of the individual and in a certain sense also show that most human progress has been initiated by the individual; the individual leads and the masses follow as best as they can.
The most striking examples of individuals shaping the destiny of a nation are very evident in recent times. France was profoundly influenced by Napoleon, the influence of Hitler on Germany cannot be underestimated nor the profound effect that Churchill had on the course of English history. In India, in recent times the personality of Gandhi gave a distinct stamp to Indian politics; and all these movements were possible only because at their centre there was an individual with some outstanding and exceptional qualities. This is not to deny the importance of the collectivity, but only to point out that the human individual plays a great role and sometimes even the most important one in human evolution. As a matter of fact, some historians conceive of history as a mass of biographies. Without completely agreeing with this viewpoint, we should be able to appreciate the value of the individual in human progress.
WHAT IS THE AIM OF LIFE AND HOW CAN HISTORY HELP US FIND IT?
This is the last but most important question to be explored here in this brief discussion. We start with a firm belief that life has a purpose and that human life has a goal, and that this goal is fulfilled by an evolutionary process. At the present moment man represents the mental stage of evolution; by this alone he is different and superior to the animal, but this too will have to be surpassed and man has to attain to a greater level of consciousness and perfection. The aim and destiny of human life will thus be first to develop his mind and then go beyond to a greater perfection beyond mind.
How can history help us in this pursuit?
It may be said that all study, or at least the major part of what we study consists in analysing the past. It is the same with history too; but we need to take great care that we do not stick to the past.
It will be our aim in this book to show that all that has happened in the past has only helped to prepare the present and in the same way the present is preparing the future. With the past as our bedrock and the present as the springboard, we must prepare to leap into the future. Viewed from this point, the study of history can be of great value.
About the author:
Born in 1936, Kittu Reddy was brought up in the spiritual ambience of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry since the age of 5. He received his education at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE), graduating in 1957. In 1958, he started teaching at the same Centre, first at the school level and later from 1969 at the college level, courses on Indian Culture, Political Science, Social Science, and History in the light and vision of Sri Aurobindo. From 1958 to 1976, he also served in the SAICE administration.
Prof. Reddy has conducted numerous workshops for the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, on topics concerning Motivation, Leadership, Ethics, and the Indian nation. In 1994, at the request of General BC Joshi, then Chief of Army Staff, he moved to Delhi for two years as Adviser to the Army Welfare Education Society. One of his important works included preparing learning material for the Army personnel training which would introduce spirituality as a motivating factor. He also worked closely with the Army Schools and is a founding member of the Academic Advisory Council of AWES.
Prof. Reddy has been invited to various educational institutions in India and abroad to speak on various topics related to Indian Culture and Society, Indian Education, Stress Management, and World Unity. He lives in the Ashram and continues to take classes for interested seekers and learners in small groups as well as online. He is the nephew of Late Sanjiva Reddy, the former President of India.
Also see – Indian History in Indian Education: Beyond Ideologies and Politics
(in our Insightful Conversation series)
~ Cover image: Isha Bidwaikar, Graphic design: Beloo Mehra