A visitor to Europe would not fail to be struck by the pride that is shown in showcasing the past. In Vienna, a favourite of tourist guides is a dwelling designed by an architect who disliked flat surfaces, and so ensured that the floors of each room sported a clutch of small and big mounds, thereby making it a trifle less easy to walk on. In Paris, museums show sketches of Leonardo da Vinci and other greats from the past, some of which seemed somewhat unimpressive. No matter. They were each lovingly cared for, as much so as a mound of rocks an hour’s train ride from London, Stonehenge, which is showcased as a major tourist attraction dating back to the days of the druids. Schoolbooks in Europe are filled with page after page of illustrious sons and daughters of EU countries, all presented in the context of the history of the world as seen through the eyes of Europe.
In contrast, India is a country where much of history has been rubbished as myth, to such a degree that for those passing through the school system, this is a country that in effect was born on 15 August 1947, much like Pakistan a day earlier. There is chapter after chapter in school textbooks on a very few “heroes of the freedom struggle”, with most of the space being devoted to the Nehrus and Mahatma Gandhi.
Jawaharlal Nehru apparently agreed with his teachers in England that the ancient past of India was a myth, and that therefore the heroes and heroines celebrated in ancient epics were just characters in a novel. While Greeks may be proud of the Iliad and the Odyssey, in India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have been banished from histories of India as “myth”, thereby constricting the history of the country in a way that would be sacrilegious in Greece or in Italy, where the exploits of Julius Caesar are celebrated to this day.
This columnist believes that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata described real life situations, and that Rama and Sita existed in flesh and blood during a time erased on the excuse of myth by colonial-era historians.
The Chinese Communist Party rebuilt much of the Great Wall of China, and what is needed to be done in India is to re-discover the truth of the epics. Were, for example, a tourist trail to be created that would retrace the journey of Rama to Lanka and back, the same would not only generate an awareness of the awesome past of this country, but also attract tens of millions of tourists and pilgrims from across the globe.
Certainly the Sri Lankan government would be willing to join in such a re-creation of the past, in view of the immense goodwill that an extension of Rama’s trail to Sri Lanka across the Ram Setu would generate in India.
While a re-creation of Rama’s path to Lanka on the lines of the Great Wall would be a joint enterprise between Sri Lanka and India, an authentic rendering of the life and travels of the Buddha would be a joint effort between India and Nepal, while re-creating the deeds of Guru Nanak would necessitate the cooperation of Pakistan, where several locations associated with the founder of Sikhism exist, whereas a rendition of events in the life of Mahavira could possibly be carried out entirely within this country.
Apart from a greater realisation in our people of what A.L. Basham saw as the wonder that is India as well as greater tourism, a spinoff of this effort would be a better atmosphere between India and its neighbours.
Also included would be a deepening of the understanding that cooperation between the countries of South Asia (including Afghanistan and Myanmar) is essential if a deadly common enemy, poverty, is to be eliminated.
It needs to be said at this point that those who seek to appropriate Rama and Sita to Hindus alone are doing an immense disservice to the memories of this illustrious pair, for they are the cultural treasure of every citizen of India and not just of those belonging to a single faith, just as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the Panchatantra and the Jataka tales, not to mention so many other treasures from the past, are the heritage of every citizen of India, and indeed of the world, and ought not to be either promoted or rejected on the grounds of religion.
What is needed is faith in India, and this can only develop to the levels seen in the US, the UK, Japan and China if the ancient past of our country is celebrated rather than put away as myth.