Itihasa (इतिहासः)

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There are four books under this heading:

  1. Valmiki-Ramayana
  2. Yogavasishtha
  3. Mahabharata
  4. Harivamsa

These four books embody all that is in the Vedas, but only in a simpler manner. These are called the Suhrit-Samhitas or the Friendly Treatises, while the Vedas are called the Prabhu-Samhitas or the Commanding Treatises with great authority.[1]

These works explain the great universal truths in the form of historical narratives, stories and dialogues. These are very interesting volumes and are liked by all, from the inquisitive child to the intellectual scholar. The Itihasas give us beautiful stories of absorbing interest and importance, through which all the fundamental teachings of Hinduism are impressed on one's mind. The laws of Smritis and the principles of the Vedas are stamped firmly on the minds of the Hindus through the noble and marvellous deeds of their great national heroes. We get a clear idea of Hinduism from these sublime stories. The common man cannot comprehend the high abstract philosophy of the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. Hence, the compassionate sages Valmiki and Vyasa wrote the Itihasas for the benefit of common people. The same philosophy is presented with analogies and parables in a tasteful form to the common run of mankind.[1]

Ramayana and Mahabharata

The two well-known Itihasas (histories) are the epics (Mahakavyas), Ramayana and Mahabharata They are two very popular and useful Sastras of the Hindus. The Ramayana was written by the sage Valmiki, and the Mahabharata by Vyasa.[1]

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata speak to us Clearly about the ancient India, about her people, her customs, her ways of living, her arts, her civilisation and culture, her manufactures, etc.

Ramayana

The Ramayana, the Adi-Kavya or the first epic poem, relates the story of Sri Rama, the ideal man. It is the history of the family of the solar race descended from Ishvaku, in which was born Sri Ramachandra, the Avatara of Lord Vishnu, and his three brothers. The ideal characters such as Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata and Sri Hanuman that we find in Ramayana firmly establish Hindu Dharma in our minds. The story of the birth of Rama and his brothers, their education and marriages, the exile of Sri Rama, the carrying off and recovery of Sita, his wife, the destruction of Ravana, the Rakshasa King of Lanka, and the reign of Sri Rama, are described in detail in Ramayana. How a man should behave towards his superiors, equals and inferiors, how a king ought to rule his kingdom, how a man should lead his life in this world, how he can obtain his release, freedom and perfection, may be learnt from this epic. The Ramayana gives a vivid picture of Indian life. The lives of Rama, Bharata and Lakshmana provide a model of fraternal affection and mutual service. Sri Hanuman stands as an ideal unique Karma Yogin. The life of Sita is regarded as the most perfect example of womanly fidelity, chastity and affection. The Ramayana is written in twenty-four thousand verses by Sri Valmiki.[1]

The Mahabharata

The Mahabharata is the history of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. It gives a description of the great war, the Battle of Kurukshetra, which broke out between the Kauravas and the Pandavas who were cousins and descendants of the lunar race. The Mahabharata is an encyclopaedia of Hindu Dharma. It is also called the fifth Veda. There is really no theme in religion, philosophy, mysticism and polity which this great epic does not touch and expound. It contains very noble moral teachings, useful lessons of all kinds, many beautiful stories and episodes, discourses, sermons, parables and dialogues which set forth the principles of morals and metaphysics. The Mahabharata contains also the immortal discourse of Bhishma on Dharma, which he gave to Yudhishthira, when he was lying on the bed of arrows. The whole Mahabharata forms an encyclopaedia of history, morals and religion unsurpassed by any other epic in the world. The Pandavas obtained victory through the grace of Lord Krishna. The Mahabharata is written in one hundred thousand verses by Sri Krishnadvaipayana Vyasa.[1]

The Bhagavad-Gita

The most important part of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad-Gita. It is a marvellous dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield, before the commencement of the great war. Bhagavan Sri Krishna became the charioteer of Arjuna. Sri Krishna explained the essentials of Dharma to Arjuna. Just as the Upanishads contain the cream of the Vedas, so does the Gita contain the cream of the Upanishads.[1]

Arjuna saw his dear relatives and teachers, before him, in the battle-field. He fainted and refused to fight against them. Then Lord Krishna imparted knowledge of the Self to Arjuna and convinced him that it was his duty to fight regardless of consequences. Afterwards Arjuna gave up his Moha, or delusion. All his doubts were cleared. He fought against the Kauravas and achieved victory.[1]

Itihasa to Mythology

Euro-American texts are termed as English or American history, literature or culture but civilisational knowledge be it Indian or Greek has been termed as mythology or classical, both attuning to it ‘ancient & dead’ status.

Our epics, Ramayana and Mahabharatha were classified as ‘Itihasa’ ("It thus happened"). As a part of the diabolical plan of the East India Company’s Indologists to ‘digest’ & ‘assimilate’ our civilisational knowledge systems, in 1813, James Mill & Charles Grant wrote ‘History of India’ to introduce the term ‘mythology’ to classify most of the literature of Bharat as Myth (in the sense of a widely held but false belief or idea). This is perpetuated even today, despite anthropological and archaeological evidence, that our itihasa figures are mythical and not histroical.

Mill & Grant’s criteria for classification as ‘Mythology’

  1. The events in these texts seemed to go before the date of creation of the earth as fixed by Father James Usher as 9 AM, 23rd Oct, 4004 BCE. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez says, history is recorded only after the time of the Dictator, any event prior to this time is not history but mythology.
  2. It was held by the east India company Indologists that Alexander defeated Porus in 326 BCE and spread culture and civilized thought to the pagans Indians. So the civilization described in these texts which seemed to be more advanced in science, technology, culture, philosophy and linguistics could not have existed prior to the arrival of Alexander and hence the texts are mythical.
  3. The British came up with the concept of the Aryan Invasion of India which spread culture and civilized thought to India and that until then Indians were uncivilized barbarians. Hence, again, the civilization described in these texts, which seemed to be more advanced in science, technology, culture, philosophy and linguistics could not have existed prior to the Aryan Invasion and hence the texts are mythical. The Aryan Invasion has now been dismissed by the Western historians as a figment of concoction by the British to justify their occupation of India as a rightful occupier of this Indian territory and beneficiary of its natural resources by painting the Indians themselves as belonging to the Aryan race in reality who had invaded and settled in India and set aside the original inhabitant Dravidian race as lower castes. This Aryan – Dravidian classification has now been proven to be racially incorrect as the entire Indian population has been found to belong to the same race despite their differences in features and complexion. Also the study of traditional Indian text has thrown to light how the terminologies Aryan and Dravidian were based on geographical division and not racial, cultural or civilizational. Thus this premise of Mr.Mill & Mr. Grant also seems to be flawed.
  4. They held that the Genealogies were incoherent and hence the texts were imaginary or mythical. It is to be noted that while texts contained Genealogies, their focus was on key human achievements, Dharma and Principles to be followed – basically lessons for life. Given this, there is a therefore a good possibility for gaps or inconsistencies in discussing the order in Genealogy, but that cannot detract from the historicity of the texts.

A fact that has now been proven wrong by modern cosmology and traditional archaeological finds. Hence, this premise of Mr.Mill & Mr.Grant has been found to be flawed. Not only has the existence of a civilized India prior to the arrival of Alexander been proved beyond an iota of doubt, the talk of the defeat of Porus in the hands of Alexander has been debunked is also now being questioned with the uncovering of various prebiblical texts and piecing together various circumstantial evidences which point to the contrary namely, Alexander being wounded and defeated by Porus. In fact newer evidence may even show that Alexander did not come into India at all. Thus, on all 4 grounds, Mr.Mill & Mr. Grant’s assumptions for classifying the Indian literature as mythological have been found flawed. Hence, it is but natural to revert these texts back to the original classification they enjoyed prior to this incorrect reclassification. That would bring these texts back into the classification as historical texts. Much to the consternation of the so called post British historians, it is to be noted that there is no other civilization that is as ancient and continuous as India and hence the branches of history and archeology themselves have a lesson or two to be learned on how to pursue history and archeology, from this civilization and culture. These fields of sciences would be at a great loss if they try to pursue the science through a constrained point of view as adopted by more recent civilizations or schools of thought.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Swami Sivananda, All About Hinduism, Page 38-41