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Mahabharat historian gets research reins

New Delhi, July 2: A retired history professor who has written articles arguing that stories from the Ramayan and the Mahabharat are truthful accounts of events that took place has been named chief of the ICHR, the government agency to promote historical research.

Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, whose interests include Vedic literature, Sanatana Dharma and Bharatiya Sanskriti, set the tone for his three-year tenure after taking charge on Saturday.

Under his leadership, the Indian Council of Historical Research, he told The Telegraph, should take up projects to rewrite ancient history to establish the “continuous Indian civilisation”, including the period of the two epics.

“The stories of the Ramayan and the Mahabharat cannot be termed a-historical just because there is not enough archaeological hard evidence. Excavations cannot be done in many places since people are living there and you cannot evict them,” Rao said from Warangal, Telangana.

Rao, who taught history at Warangal’s Kakatiya University, has written several articles seeking to establish that stories of the Puranas and particularly the Ramayan and the Mahabharat are truthful accounts of historical events.

“A lot of historical material has come through cultural, anthropological, archaeological and ethnographic studies in the last 60 years about the continuous Indian civilisation. The findings can be compiled by researchers. I think the ICHR should support historians interested in doing work on these aspects,” he said.

Rao, a member of the ICHR council when the previous NDA government was in power at the Centre, said studies might be conducted to understand the social system and cultural values during the period of the two epics. He also said archaeological evidence suggesting early habitation in Ayodhya could be traced back to the 8th century BC.

The latest excavations conducted after a court directive at the Ramjanmabhoomi site some years ago did reveal ruins of a basement of a big-columned monument on which the Babri mosque was built. Stone pillars and door-jambs with Hindu motifs used in the construction of the mosque were also found, as were images of Hindu deities below the ground at the disputed site.

Asked what the solution to the dispute should be, Rao said: “Historians need not give any solution. Historians present historical materials and the government has to take the decision.”

Rao said the ICHR had, over the last two decades, mainly focused its research projects on the modern and the colonial period. Before 1990, however, when R.S. Sharma and Irfan Habib were chairpersons, the council had undertaken several projects on early history.

“Even during R.S. Sharma’s tenure, they were using Marxist tools. Cultural aspects were not given attention. History should be comprehensive, not driven by any political thought,” Rao said.

By Marxist tools, Rao said, he meant studies entirely focused on the analysis of economic and material aspects, not culture, art or religion.

The new ICHR chief said a lot of archaeological material and literature were stored in archives in other countries and the agency should take the initiative to get at least copies of such works.Rao said he has not been associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh but loves the country and nationalist ideas. “I love the country and the culture. As a historian, I feel that history should tell people about their culture and civilisation.”

After taking over, Rao put out a message on the ICHR website where he conveyed “deep gratitude” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and human resource development minister Smriti Irani for choosing him for the position.