Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yun hota to kya hota: An alternate history - Part I

Before 10th Century CE: Indian sub-continent is in the grip of Dark Ages, with the influencial Brahmin class holding sway over the ruling Kshatriyas and exploiting the working class people. Ancient mythological texts like Vedas, Puranas, and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are accessible only to Sanskrit reading Brahmins, and the common man relies solely on their interpretation for all religious and spiritual guidance, as well as more practical decisions in private and public life.
Trade relations with Europe in the West, China in the North, and the Aztec and Mayan traders from the Far East keep the economy healthy, but the poor peasants living at the bottom of social hierarchy have no share in the general prosperity.
The first jolt to the status quo came with the conquest of Arabia by African tribes around 8th Century CE. The hostile new regime practically blocked the trade of precious fur, leather and Mediterranian herbs that had been thriving through the land route between Europe and Asia. Winters in the Rajputana deserts and Gangetic plains were unbearable without European fur.

It was however the conquest of Kabul towards the end of 9th Century that marked a new epoch in the Indian history.

Kabul had been the seat of ancient Buddhist learning since many centuries now. Scholars and monks well-versed in the original Indian Vedic texts, history, philosophy of the ancient saints as well as the teachings of Gautam Buddha, had thrived and prospered in this cultural hub. They ran schools and universities which through the centuries had nurtured Chinese scholars, Muslim poets and philosophers, and Indian princes. The reputation of these universities and the cosmopolitan mix of students they attracted, had given Kabul its unique identity as a cultural melting pot and a very prosperous international city.
Now, with Kabul under the grip of the hedonistic African tribes, the rich foreign students stopped pouring into the city. Consequently, the universities started crumbling and the Buddhist scholars began considering the lavish offers from Indian royal families that had long been trying to lull these masters to tutor their clans.
The return of the Buddhist scholars brought about an intellectual and cultural revolution in the decadent Indian society. These masters, rejecting the existing social hierarchy, set up educational Gurukuls in the midst of the most populous cities. These Gurukuls were open to anyone who wished to learn and was able to either pay or serve the school. Education became gradually more accessible to the masses. Sons of peasants began questioning the hitherto uncontested authority of temple Brahmins.

The Indian Renaissance had begun.


  1. Aha! I like it!! So you are also fascinated with history & mythology like me? Have been planning to write on that since long, but never quite managed...

    liked this post.. please write more :)

  2. Thank you! Although I must confess the subject sounded a lot more fascinating in my head than it does on the blog... or maybe my narration isn't textured enough, given my limited knowledge of history :)
    Anyway, I hope to proceed with this series.

  3. This article is too historical for a common man.I couldn't identify the reality and the fiction in the story. Frankly speaking I did not get the gist of the whole story. May be something is missing or I am getting dumb! Anyway good luck with the next one....

    Sachin Chaudhari

  4. If there's something in there that you've not understood, that's great news for me. You see, for the first time I've tried to serialize an article. I was worried that it is too obvious and anyone can guess what's coming next - hence your reaction is quite encouraging :)

  5. Yes it does make u think for a while, turn pages of ur history textbooks. But it does build some interest with the whole concept of yun hota to kaisa hota.

    One thing though... u've already said --- "They ran schools and universities which through the centuries had nurtured Chinese scholars, Muslim poets and philosophers, AND INDIAN PRINCES."
    Then why again--- "and the Buddhist scholars began considering the lavish offers from Indian royal families that had long been trying to lull these masters to tutor their clans." .... ???

    and ya... I loved this line- "given Kabul its unique identity as a cultural melting pot..."

    Kinjal :)

  6. Ah, a query! Well, think of Harvard. A lot of business tycoons send their kids there, but not ALL of them. Now think, a bunch of bigwigs persuade them to start a school in India, then many more Indian kids would have Harvard certificates, right?

    This is 10th Century we're talking about. Sending young princes all the way to Kabul was a tough decision. But if the great teachers ever decided to shift base to India, many more royal kids would benefit from their knowledge. Parents happy, kids happy, teachers rich. That's what I think, at least.

  7. Nice sweeping intro to the counter-backdrop you are setting up to the story.

    Maybe a bit hurried in its tone and summarises too much too quick in terms of content, but probably does the job as it's a blog.

    Gives the lay reader a good birds-eye glimpse through the scenario, and many things ring-through with modern situations too - hence not falling into the 'typical-irrelevant-history' narrative type, which is good.

    I have not read that much historical literature, but definitely interested in Indian philosophy's evolution nonetheless.

    Eager to read more 'waisey aur kaisey hua'...