The volumes of the PROJECT ON THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY AND CULTURE IN INDIAN CIVILIZATION aim at discovering the main aspects of India's heritage and present them in an interrelated way. These volumes, in spite of their unitary look, recognize the difference between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. The Project is not being executed by a single group of thinkers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In fact, contributions are made by different scholars with different ideological persuasions and methodological approaches. The Project is marked by what may be called "methodological pluralism". In spite of its primarily historical character, this Project, both in its conceptualization and execution, has been shaped by scholars drawn from different disciplines. It is for the first time that an endeavour of such a unique and comprehensive character has been undertaken to study critically a major world civilization like India.
In this volume devoted to the Puranas, History and Itihasas, scholars have contributed articles on central ideas of ancient texts and also on Historiography or method of writing history. D.P. Chattopadhyaya in his work entitled Ways of) Understanding the Human Past has shown that there cannot be one method of historical enquiry and writing. One of the editors of this volume,N.S.S. Raman, has in his Introduction and in other articles, attempted to show that in the Indian historical and cultural tradition, pluralist methodology is not only avoidable but is necessary. Contributors have tried to highlight those topics that come under the five characteristics as stated by the Puranas, namely the creation of the universe, the various eras of human history, histories of the dynasties of the various kings and events that have occurred during their reigns, and of the gods and sages. The two major itihasas in Indian literature, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, have also been studied intensely in this volume.
A section is devoted exclusively to historiography of ancient Indian history. The section includes various religious histories like those of Saivism and Buddhism, and source! of historical writings other than archaeology and epigraphy like biographies and travel diaries.
About the Authors
D.P. CHATTOPADHYAYA, M.A., LL.B., Ph.D. (University of Calcutta and London School of Economics), D. Litt. (Honoris Causa), studied and researched law, philosophy and history and taught at various universities in India, Asia, Europe and USA from 1954 to 1994. Founder-Chairman of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (1981-1990) and President-cum-Chairman of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (1984-1991), Chattopadhyaya is currently the Project Director of the multidisciplinary ninety-six volume Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture (PHISPC) and Chairman of the Centre for Studies in Civilizations (CSC). Among his 37 publications, he has authored 19 and edited and co-edited 18. These are Individuals and Societies (1967); Individuals and Worlds (1976); Sri Aurobindo and Karl Marx (1988); Anthropology and Historiography of Science (1990); Induction, Probability and Skepticism (1991); Sociology, Ideology and Utopia (1997); Societies, Cultures and Ideologies (2000); Interdisciplinary Studies in Science, Society, Value and Civilizational Dialogue (2002); Philosophy of Science, Phenomenology and Other Essays (2003); Philosophical Consciousness and Scientific Knowledge: Conceptual Linkages and Civilizational Background (2004); Self, Society and Science: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives (2004); Religion, Philosophy and Science (2006); Aesthetic Theories and Forms in Indian Tradition (2008) and Love, Life and Death (2010). He has also held high public offices, namely, Union Cabinet Minister and State Governor. He is a Life Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Member of the International Institute of Philosophy, Paris. He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1998 and Padma Vibhushan in 2009 by the Government of India.
VIDYA NIVAS MISHRA (Late) was a distinguished scholar in Hindi and Sanskrit and was Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Central Institute of Hindi at Agra. He later became Vice-Chancellor of three Universities in U.P., Sampurnanand Sanskrit University and Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith in Varanasi and the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya University of Gorakhpur. He was also for some time Editor of the well-known literary and cultural weekly magazine, Dharmayug in Mumbai. At the time of his sudden death in a car accident, he was a nominated Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha). He was a recipient of both the Padmashri and Padma Bhushan awards conferred by the Government of India.
N.S.S. RAMAN (Late), who took over the unfinished work of this volume after Professor Vidya Niwas Mishra's death, was Retired Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy and Ex-Dean, Faculty of Arts, Banaras Hindu University. Blind till the age of six he recovered his eye-sight partially after surgery. He had a brilliant academic career marked by many prizes, scholarships and fellowships. He was educated in India, U.K. and Germany. He was fluent in 10 languages, including Sanskrit, Pali, German and French. He was Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mainz in Germany, the Buddhist University at Bangkok and at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla. Author of a number of books and papers in reputed national and international journals, he was responsible for editing the PHISPC volumes on Hinduism (2013).
It is understandable that man, shaped by Nature, would like to know Nature. The human ways of knowing Nature are evidently diverse, theoretical and practical, scientific and technological, artistic and spiritual. This diversity has, on scrutiny, been found to be neither exhaustive nor exclusive. The complexity of physical nature, life-world and, particularly, human mind is so enormous that it is futile to follow a single method for comprehending all the aspects of the world in which we are situated.
One need not feel bewildered by the variety and complexity of the worldly phenomena. After all, both from traditional wisdom and our daily experience, we know that our own nature is not quite alien to the structure of the world. Positively speaking, the elements and forces that are out there in the world are also Present in our body- mind complex, enabling us to adjust ourselves to our environment. not only the natural conditions but also the social conditions of life have instructive similarities between them. This is not to underrate in any way the difference between the human ways of life all over the world. It is partly due to the variation in climatic conditions and partly due to the distinctness of production-related tradition, history and culture.
Three broad approaches are discernible in the works on historiography of civilization, comprising science and technology, art and architecture, social sciences and institutions. Firstly, some writers are primarily interested in discovering the general laws which govern all civilizations spread over different continents. They tend to underplay what they call the noisy local events of the external world and peculiarities of different languages, literatures and histories. Their accent is on the unity of Nature, the unity of science and the unity of mankind. The second group of writers, unlike the generalist or transcendentalist ones, attach primary importance to the distinctiveness of every culture. To these writers human freedom and creativity are extremely important and basic in character. Social institutions and the cultural articulations of human consciousness, they argue, are bound to be expressive of the concerned people's consciousness. By implication they tend to reject concepts like archetypal consciousness, universal mind and providential history. There is a third group of writers who offer a composite picture of civilizations, drawing elements both from their local and common characteristics. Every culture has its local roots and peculiarities. At the same time, it is pointed out that due to demographic migration and immigration over the centuries an element of compositeness emerges almost in every culture. When, due to a natural calamity or political exigencies people move from one part of the world to another, they carry with them, among other things, their language, cultural inheritance and their ways of living. In the light of the above facts, it is not at all surprising that comparative anthro- pologists and philologists are intrigued by the striking similarity between different language families and the rites, rituals and myths of different peoples. Speculative philosophers of history, heavily relying on the findings of epigraphy, ethnography, archaeology and theology, try to show in very general terms that the particulars and universals of culture are 'essentially' or 'secretly' interrelated. The spiritual aspects of culture like dance and music, beliefs pertaining to life, death and duties, on analysis, are found to be mediated by the material forms of life like weather forecasting, food production, urbanization and invention of script. The transition from the oral culture to the written one was made possible because of the mastery of symbols and rules of measurement. Speech precedes grammar, poetry prosody. All these show how the 'matters' and 'forms' of life are so subtly interwoven.
The PHISPC publications on History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, in spite of their unitary look, do recognize the differences between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. It is not a work of a single author. Nor is it being executed by a group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In conceiving the Project we have interacted with, and been influenced by, the writings and views of many Indian and non-Indian thinkers.
The attempted unity of this Project lies in its aim and inspiration. We have in India many scholarly works written by Indians on different aspects of our civilization and culture. Right from the pre-Christian era to our own time, India has drawn the attention of various countries of Asia, Europe and Africa. Some of these writings are objective. and informative and many others are based on insufficient information and hearsay, and therefore not quite reliable, but they have their own value. Quality and view-points keep on changing not only because of the adequacy and inadequacy of evidence but also, and perhaps more so, because of the bias and prejudice, religious and political conviction, of the writers.
Besides, it is to be remembered that history, like Nature, is not an open book to be read alike by all. The past is mainly enclosed and only partially disclosed. History is, therefore, partly objective or 'real' and largely a matter of construction. This is one of the reasons why some historians themselves think that it is a form of literature or art. However, it does not mean that historical construction is 'anarchic' and arbitrary. Certainly, imagination plays an important role in it.
But its character is basically dependent upon the questions which the historian raises and wants to understand or answer in terms of the ideas and actions of human beings in the past ages. In a way, history, somewhat like the natural sciences, is engaged in answering questions and in exploring relationships of cause and effect between events and developments across time. While in the natural sciences, the scientist poses questions about nature in the form of hypotheses, expecting to elicit authoritative answers to such questions, the historian studies the past, partly for the sake of understanding it for its own sake and partly also for the light which the past throws upon the present, and the possibilities which it opens up for moulding the future. But the difference between the two approaches must not be lost sight of. The scientist is primarily interested in discovering laws and framing theories, in terms of which different events and processes can be connected and anticipated. His interest in the conditions or circumstances attending the concerned events is secondary. Therefore, scientific laws turn out to be basically abstract and easily expressible in terms of mathematical language. In contrast, the historian's main interest centres round the specific events, human ideas and actions, not general laws. So, the historian, unlike the scientist, is obliged to pay primary attention to the circumstances of the events he wants to study. Consequently, history, like most other humanistic disciplines, is concrete and particularist. This is not to deny the obvious truth that historical events and processes consisting of human ideas and actions show some trend or other and weave some pattern or another. If these trends and patterns were not there at all in history, the study of history as a branch of knowledge would not have been profitable or instructive. But one must recognize that historical trends and patterns, unlike scientific laws and theories, are not general or purported to be universal in their scope.
The aim of this Project is to discover the main aspects of Indian culture and present them in an interrelated way. Since our culture has influenced, and has been influenced by the neighbouring cultures of West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia, attempts have been made here to trace and study these influences in their mutuality. It is well-known that during the last three centuries, European presence in India, both political and cultural, has been very widespread. In many volumes of the Project, considerable attention has been paid to Europe and through Europe to other parts of the world. For the purpose of a comprehensive cultural study of India, the existing political boundaries of the South Asia of today are more of a hindrance than help. Cultures, like languages, often transcend the bounds of changing political territories.
If the inconstant political geography is not a reliable help to the understanding of the layered structure and spread of culture, a somewhat comparable problem is encountered in the area of historical periodization. Periodization or segmenting time is a very tricky affair. When exactly one period ends and another begins is not precisely ascertainable. The periods of history designated as ancient, medieval and modern are purely conventional and merely heuristic in character. The varying scopes of history, local, national and continental or universal, somewhat like the periods of history, are unavoidably fuzzy and shifting. Amidst all these difficulties, the volume-wise details have been planned and worked out by the editors in consultation with the Project Director and the General Editor. I believe that the editors of different volumes have also profited from the reactions and suggestions of the contributors of individual chapters in planning the volumes.
Another aspect of Indian history which the volume-editors and contributors of the Project have carefully dealt with is the distinction and relation between civilization and culture. The material conditions which substantially shaped Indian civilization have been discussed in detail. From agriculture and industry to metallurgy and technology, from physics and chemical practices to the life sciences and different systems of medicines-all the branches of knowledge and skill which directly affect human life-form the heart of this Project. Since the periods covered by the PHISPC are extensive-prehistory, proto-history, early history, medieval history and modern history of India- we do not claim to have gone into all the relevant material conditions of human life. We had to be selective. Therefore, one should not be surprised if one finds that only some material aspects of Indian civilization have received our pointed attention, while the rest have been dealt with in principle or only alluded to.
One of the main aims of the Project has been to spell out the first principles of the philosophy of different schools, both pro-Vedic and anti-Vedic. The basic ideas of Buddhism, jainism and Islam have been given their due importance. The special position accorded to philosophy is to be understood partly in terms of its proclaimed unifying character and partly to be explained in terms of the fact that different philosophical systems represent alternative world-views, cultural perspectives, their conflict and mutual assimilation.
Most of the volume-editors, and at their instance the concerned contributors, have followed a middle path between the extremes of narrativism and theoreticism. The underlying idea has been this: if in the process of working out a comprehensive Project like this every contributor attempts to narrate all those interesting things that he has in the back of his mind, the enterprise is likely to prove unmanageable. If, on the other hand, particular details are consciously forced into a fixed mould or pre- supposed theoretical structure, the details lose their particularity and interesting character. Therefore, depending on the nature of the problem of discourse, most of the writers have tried to reconcile in their presentation, the specificity of narrativism and the generality of theoretical orientation. This is a conscious editorial decision. Because, in the absence of a theory, however inarticulate it may be, the factual details tend to fall apart. Spiritual network or theoretical orientation makes historical details not only meaningful but also interesting and enjoyable.
Another editorial decision which deserves spelling out is the necessity or avoidability of duplication of the same theme in different volumes or even in the same volume. Certainly, this Project is not an assortment of several volumes. Nor is any volume intended to be a miscellany. This Project has been designed with a definite end in view and has a structure of its own. The character of the structure has admittedly been influenced by the variety of the themes accommodated within it. Again it must be understood that the complexity of structure is rooted in the aimed integrality of the Project itself.
This volume on Puranas, History and Ithihasas has been overdue for a long time, the unavoidable delay being the unfortunate and untimely death of one its Editors, Professor Vidya Niwas Mishra early in 2005. Professor Mishra had distingushed himself in various walks of life, as Vice-Chancellor of some universities, as Editor of a national journal and as Member of Parliament. He had started work on this volume by convening a national seminar on historiography in March, 2001, in which many reputed scholars in the field had taken part and had submitted their papers. I record herewith the deep sense of loss by the demise of Professor Vidya Niwas Mishra and some other contributors who could not see their papers in print in this volume.
The Director of the Centre for Studies in Civilizations and General Editors of the Project of the History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture, Professor D.P. Chattopadhyaya was kind enough to ask me to take over the responsibility of editing this volume in January 2006 to fill the vacuum caused by the passing away of Professor Vidya Niwas Mishra. The undersigned received 11 papers submitted during the national seminar on Historiography conducted by Professor Mishra, which have been edited and included in this volume.
Work was restarted on this Volume to add a very valuable section on Historiography. Professor Chattopadhyaya's encouragement and support was available throughout the work on this volume. His book, Ways of Understanding the Human Past, has been a trailblazer, so to say, and various articles have followed the path shown by him. His concise book emphasizes the need for rethinking on historiography, especially when we deal with works like the Puranas and Itihasas in the context of Indian's cultural history.
The volume has been divided into three sections, the first dealing with myth, symbol and historiography, with special reference to the Puranas, Itihasas and historiography of Indian culture, the second dealing with Puranas and Itihasas, and the third dealing with problems of historiography of the various facets of Indian culture. It is hoped that students and scholars will take interest in a serious study of and research into these aspects of our ancient heritage, which have indeed moulded Indian society for generations. If there are gaps, I beg the reader's pardon. I hope that they would profit by the rich material to be found in this volume. I may add that some young scholars have also been encouraged to contribute to the volume. A few of the articles were submitted in Hindi, two of which have been transalated into English, for inclusion in the volume.
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