Dr. Navaratna S. Rajaram is a mathematician and scientist who after more than twenty years as an academic and industrial researcher turned his attention to history and history of science. He has authored several acclaimed books on ancient history including Sarasvati River and the Vedic Civilization, Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization (w/ David Frawley); and The Deciphered Indus Script (w/ Natwar Jha). He is best known for showing the connections between Vedic Mathematics and Indus archaeology and proposing a decipherment of the 5000 year old Indus script jointly with the late Natwar Jha. He is currently visiting faculty at the University of Massachusetts , Center for Indic Studies at Dartmouth.
He spoke to Lokvani about his work and the need for technically minded Indians to learn more about India and its history.
What motivated , a mathematician by profession to do research in Indian history and Indology?
I was always interested in history and history of science. My maternal grandfather Sri R. Vyasa Rao wrote Sri Krishna Caritra in Kannada (my mother tongue) based on Sri Bankima Chandra Chatterji's Bengali masterpiece of the same name. My study of the work taught me that there advantages to looking at history from a scientific point of view. I had long planned to bring out an English version of that work, which finally happened a few years ago in my English Search for the Historical Krishna. It is not a translation though but a new work that uses a lot of data which was not available to Sri Bankima Chandra.
How did you learn the techniques required to do research in History? Do you consider your "non-training" in the colonial-Eurocentric approach to history an advantage?
I don't think you need any special training in history except a capacity to look at all claims with skepticism and never to accept anything on authority or reputation. The same is true of science also. In that sense my training in mathematics (and math physics) prepared me well for history.
Why is the Aryan Invasion theory which we now know is a myth important to Indian historians? Why are so many scholars afraid debunking the Aryan theories?
It was important because it was an attempt by outsiders, even those hostile to us, to tell us how we should see ourselves and our heritage. Now that the Aryan myth, not just the theory is dead, we need to move to a new phase-- to understand what drove Europeans and even some Indians to hold on to it long after science and history had discredited it. European scholars like Leon Poliakov and Stefan Arvidson (in The Aryan Myth and Aryan Idols) have done it from a European perspective.
But Indian scholars seem to be still reluctant and even timid to face it and hesitant to call a spade a spade and expose these Aryan theories for what they are. It is residual inferiority complex.
Why is colonial-Eurocentric approach towards understanding Indigenous culture still strongly followed in intellectual history circles ?
Inferiority complex that is programmed into Indian humanities and social science programs. This is a colonial hangover or 'dhimmitude' towards their former masters. Colonialism may be dead but the mindset of the colonial subject is still there in the intelligentsia. This is by no means limited to India.
Why do western professors studying the history of an Indigenous culture place no value on the multiple sources of literature and philosophies which guide the lives of the millions in the culture they study that have evolved through the ages some of which totally contradict their writings?
It is precisely because they contradict their long-held positions! It also strikes at the root of their presumption of superiority. But here the problem lies more with Indians than with the Western scholars. A clear message should be sent out that we judge everything on its merit regardless of whether source is indigenous (Indian) or Western, and no special consideration will be shown to anyone. After all this how we judge people and their work in other fields. A theorem in mathematics must be proved, no matter who states it. Why should it be any different in history or any other subject?
What is the danger in allowing colonial-Eurocentric works go unchallenged?
We must reject all shoddy work, Western or Indian. But because West had a monopoly on such scholarship without competition, it generated a lot of shoddy scholarship. My objection is that it has given rise to shoddy scholarship and nationalistic responses that are also shoddy in scholarship. Now that the field is opening up, we must try to lift the standards of scholarship. But people with a stake in the status quo will fight it.
You have worked on deciphering the Harappan Script and that claim has been vociferously opposed by professors following the Eurocentric approach. Are professors closing the doors on Academic research and shutting the window to knowledge by closing their mind and not allowing their students to look at rational thinking?
I don't want to make too much of the vitriolic reactions of a handful of frustrated scholars -- both Western and Indian -- to the solution that Jha and I proposed. Several people, both in India and the West have received our work favorably and others have offered constructive criticisms. Actually the script doesn't tell us much more than we already know-- that the Harappan civilization was Vedic and also the Rig Veda came before Harappan archaeology (of the Indus Valley).
THIS IS THE REAL ISSUE-- THE VEDIC-HARAPPAN IDENTITY. The rest is just diversion. Once this basic reality is accepted, it means the collapse of the academic discipline called Indo-European Studies.
As far as the script is concerned, it is just one piece of the puzzle, not the whole solution. Jha and I and David Frawley also have much more now that relate to the Vedic-Harappan equation. Jha and I had made progress towards a successor to our book The Deciphered Indus Script that would place greater emphasis on the Vedic symbolism and the identity of the Harappans. But we decided that in the prevailing climate a book would not get a reasonable hearing and be subjected to diversionary attacks and misinformation campaign. So we decided to wait until the climate turned more normal.
Unhappily, Jha died a few years ago but I and some of my colleagues are working on books on the subject. Now that these hostile academics and their followers have discredited themselves, we may bring out our books in the next few years. But for the desperate diversionary attacks by some scholars -- both Western and Indian -- worried about their positions and reputations, much of this work would have been available by now. So they succeeded in delaying progress by about a decade, that is all. My regret is that Jha, who made such a major contribution is no longer here to share it.
How do you hope to create a shift in the study of indigenous cultures which are currently being dominated by some powerful academics at prestigious universities?
Ignore their unsupported claims and demand that they give evidence and proof. Look at evidence without being swayed by prestige or reputation. Above all, don't give them any support-- financially or in terms of students. Their programs are dwindling, and it would be unwise for a young man or woman to try to make a career or gain fame following in their footsteps.
What advice do you have for our readers?
For young readers, first, study the past but don't live in the past. See if we can bring ancient wisdom like Vadantic metaphysics to apply to problems of modern physics like quantum reality. Incidentally, this is my current area of interest. Next don't waste time studying nineteenth century ideas like Aryan and Dravidian, etc. They are dead, no matter what their advocates may claim. (They will also be dead.) Except for details we have pretty much solved the problem of Vedic and Harappan origins and their mutual relationship. So start looking at proto-Vedic and pre-Vedic ages. This will call for a thorough understanding of natural history from the Ice Age to the present and of population genetics.
For everyone-- don't support these hostile programs just because they are at 'prestigious' universities or because some of these people have big reputations, at least according to themselves. Most of these are in decline and let them die a natural death. Don't prolong the agony by giving them any life support.
On the other hand support and organize programs that stress an indigenous perspective like yoga, vedanta and science others that have a rational basis and are scientifically and intellectualy exciting.
Thank you for your time