By Shruti Sharma
Lord Ganesha underwent plastic surgery. Our ancestors flew planes. And Sonam Kapoor can act.
The last time I checked, all these three statements fell in the same category-Myths.
Every other day I see some new myths about India flying up at me, from confident chai-sipping aunties in the living room and newspapers, put forward by self-proclaimed patriots and historians. As a history student, to see their confidence in the truth value of their assertions, and the refusal to listen to anything else is often unnerving.
And that’s the unique thing about history- everyone can claim their own.
As a result, some facts have been so contorted and widely spread among people by word of mouth under the garb of historical truths, with underlying political undertones, they’ve almost substituted the more comprehensive, nuanced picture that archaeological and literary evidence provides us with.
Here’s a non-comprehensive list.
1. The Aryan invasion: India was invaded and conquered by nomadic ‘gore-chitte’ Aryan tribes from Central Asia around 1500-1000 BC, who overthrew an earlier and indigenous dark-skinned Dravidian civilization.
Myth busted: Firstly the terms ‘Indo-Aryan’ and ‘Indo-European’ have NOTHING to do with racial classifications but are linguistic terms. The theory of a superior white, blue-eyed Aryan race is a myth and provided a pseudo-scientific justification for the European subjugation of Asian and African communities, portrayed as inferior. Hitler based his entire existence on this lie.
The Indo-Aryans were the speakers of a subgroup of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European group of languages, and their original homeland is a continuing subject of debate among historians.
Sadly, events don’t usually pan out like Hollywood movies with one tiny group of people on horses with swords annihilate an entire community and way of life immediately. Today most historians have discarded the notion of an Aryan invasion of the subcontinent in favour of several waves of Indo-Aryan migrations.
2. People were shuddh shakaharis in the ‘Vedic’ Age.
Myth busted: First things first. The Vedas are simply a compilation of prayers and hymns composed, preserved and transmitted by a section of an agro-pastoral community living in the northwestern part of the subcontinent in around 1500BC. That’s hundreds of years ago, much before the concept of Hinduism ever existed.
And like all usual agro-pastoral groups, meat was a regular part of their diet, mentioned explicitly in Vedic texts. Sheep, goat and oxen were regularly offered to the gods as part of sacrifices. There are even references to the great sage, Yajnavalkya enjoying a four letter delicacy which starts with a b and has been banned recently. Our ‘Vedic ancestors’ may have had their merits, but vegetarianism was definitely not one of them.
3. Ancient Indian society was the golden age for women, with women goddesses and saints.
Myth busted: One woman saint (Gargi)+ Female goddesses = Great position for women.
Sadly this is not how things work. A great chunk about the discussion of women has focused on them as a homogenous elite group. Thus, it becomes essential to look at them as more specific sub-categories based on rank, class, occupation etc. ranging from the Brahmana women to the lowly Dasis.
Women had limited access to learning, with the number of verses attributed to them in the Rigveda minuscule, thus, busting the myth that there were many women saints. Gargi was the exception rather than the norm.They could not perform sacrifices in their own right, enjoyed little control over resources with Rigvedic prayers explicitly demanding for sons.
4. We invented plastic surgery (Lord Ganesha). And airplanes (Pushpaka Vimana). And in vitro fertilisation (Karna). And everything else also. In short, Indians da best.
Myth busted: There are historical accounts. And then there are stories. Period.
The Ramayana and Mahabharata are extremely layered epics, composed as oral traditions over hundreds of years, with innumerable people contributing; meant for people to listen to and enjoy.
It may reflect, to a great extent, the social and political conditions of the time, and may even contain some true historical incidents which were exaggerated over the years to enthrall audiences. Stories of impregnation by sunlight are definitely not one of them. Flying objects and elephant trunks are simply embellishments, similar to the ones you and I make when we repeat an incident or story to someone else, to add the ‘masala’ to make some idiot listen to you.
History is always open to interpretations, with new theories coming up every day, challenging previous ones. Masquerading false facts with no evidence to back it up is nothing new, used often by political groups to further their interests. But the next time you’re fed a story, instead of buying into it blindingly, try to question it as well.
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