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Study of regional history in focus

- Historians attend congress at Ravenshaw University

Cuttack, Dec. 28: Indian History Congress (IHC) president Indu Banga has called for considering ways of encouraging systematic study of regional history as the concern of the historian today has moved away from past politics to every facet of human existence.

Banga said: “The complex empirical realities in India can be comprehended better in terms of its constituent parts or regions.” She was delivering the presidential address at the 74th session of the IHC, which chief minister Naveen Patnaik inaugurated at Ravenshaw University here today.

Banga said: “A centrist or a majoritarian view of Indian history tends to debunk regional history as ‘anti-national’. But the need of regional history arises essentially from the vastness of the Indian sub-continent and its huge linguistic and cultural diversity and varied historical experience.”

“Pan-Indian generalisations, therefore, are likely at best be partially applicable, if not actually facile or misleading. Even the historian’s conventional concern for past politics cannot be pursued effectively without reference to regional matrices — demography, environment, communication linkages, economic life, political traditions and institutions,” she said.

Banga said systematic study of regional history had become all the more relevant as nearly all the Indian universities offered postgraduate and undergraduate courses in regional history and the model syllabus of the University Grants Commission in history also recommended such courses.

Besides, nearly three quarters of research papers presented at the annual sessions of the Indian National Congress relate now to aspects of regional and local history.

“Study of regional and local history may have its own rhythm, cutting across the conventional periodisation of Indian history. Pursued systematically, regional studies can have a sobering effect on chauvinism of all kinds,” Banga said.

The IHC as the largest academic body of professional historians with 78-year-old standing has provided a vibrant intellectual platform for the discussions of wide-ranging themes on Indian history and beyond.

Organising secretary of the event Chandi Prasad Nanda said around 1,000 historians from across the country and the world (Germany, Japan, Bangadesh, Indonesia and USA) would present papers on topics such as ancient India, medieval India, modern India, contemporary India, archaeology and countries other than India during the three-day session.

Apart from the parallel academic sessions in the afternoon, Romila Thapar, the country’s foremost historian on ancient India delivered a lecture on “Historical Traditions of Early North India”, in the evening session.

Thapar, the Emeritus Professor of History at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, contradicted claims that ancient India lacked a sense of history and was bereft of historical writing.

Presenting a survey of the historical traditions of North India, Thapar argued that historical consciousness (awareness of something that happened) was embedded in the varied classical Indian literature.

Thapar described Itihasa-Purana tradition, Buddhist and Jaina tradition and bardic tradition as three distinct historical traditions.

Thapar further called for scrutiny of the vedic corpus, the epics, the Buddhist canon and monastic chronicles, inscriptions, regional accounts and royal biographies as “new genres of history” to understand the past.

“How the past saw the past is a parallel study of how we study the past,” Thapar said in her concluding remark.

Vice-chancellor of Ravenshaw University B.C. Tripathy said their department of history was hosting the event for the second time after 64 years. In his inaugural address, Naveen said exploration of varied themes and issues pertaining to colonial and post-colonial era was a significant aspect of historical studies in Odisha. “The intellectual engagement for scholars specialising on issues facing the colonial period and beyond in Odisha has led to a better understanding of varied ideas of region, nation, nationalism and popular movements,” he said.

Addressing the gathering, MP Bhatruhari Mahtab said there was a need for further historical investigation into the Kalinga War of Asoka as questions related to it still remained in mystery.

MP Pinaki Mishra said: “The BJD in Odisha has ceased to be a political entity and come to serve as a vessel of Odia nationalism.”