Lest one gather the impression that all of RC Dutt’s writings were centered around the pauperisation of peasantry and about the drain of wealth from India to Britain, it should be placed on record that his writings on Indian history and culture are worthy of equal consideration, as also his translations of the popular epics – The Mahabharat and the Ramayana and such historical novels as The Slave Girl of Agra
In fact on going through the Preface of his three-volume‘A history of Civilization in Ancient India: Based on Sanscrit Literature’, one is struck by a lament which appears to be contemporary.He writes ‘The Hindu student’s knowledge of Indian history practically begins with the date of the Mahommedan Conquest – the Hindu period is almost blank to him. The school boy who knows all about the twelve invasions of Mahmud knows little of the first wars and invasions of the Aryans who conquered and settled in Punjab three thousand years before the Sultan of Ghuzni.He has read of Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Ghori’s conquest of Delhi and Kanauj, but has scarcely any knowledge of the ancient kingdoms of Kurus and Panchalas in the same tract of the country….For the Hindu student, the history of the Hindu period should not be a blank, or a confused jumble of historical and legendary names, religious parables and Epical and Pauranik myths. No study has so potent an influence in forming a nation’s mind and a nation’s character as a critical and careful study of its past’.
The first volume is on the Vedic and the epic ages, and covers the Vedic period from BC 2000 to 1400, and the epic period from BC1400 to 1000. The Vedic period covers the Aryan language, literature, culture, philosophical texts as well as treatises on war and peace and notes on agriculture, commerce and the social norms prevalent during the period. The epic period covers the kingdoms, republics, settlements, communities and the lives of hermits in the forest.
The next volume is on the Rationalistic Age which roughly covers 1000 to 242 BC. This was the time when Megasthenes visited Pataliputra which was then the leading city of the kingdom of Chandragupta Maurya. Dutt avers that Pythagoras ‘learnt his elementary mathematics and geometry from the Sulva Sutras,his notion of the virtues of numbers is borrowed from Samkhya philosophy and lastly his idea of the five elements is essentially an Indian idea’.
The third volume covers the Buddhist period – from BC 242 to AD 500 and the Pauranik period from AD500 to AD1194. The former covers the period of Asoka the king who followed the path of Siddhartha Gautam. Both were great renouncers – while it was good for individual salvation, statecraft and political economy suffered, and the latter covers the last seven centuries of Hindu India before Islam occupied the political centre-stage. In his view, the later Pauranik period saw such a wide division of society on the basis of caste that the national spirit was somehow lost, and the decline was perhaps inevitable, and he holds both the Buddhist scripture and the laws of Manu responsible for the decline of the state.
The short summation above obviously does not do justice to the 842 pages, but the purpose of this write-up is to whet the interest of the reader in the writings of this great polyglot and litterateur.
PS: I would like to thank my senior colleague NavedMasood who pointed out that the appointment of ICS officers was based on a signed covenant with the Secretary of State. As such,I was technically wrong in mentioning that RC Dutt resigned his commission.
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