Almost all modern Indologists, all modern Indian education, all modern Indian religion is looked upon from an explicitly and unabashedly Semitic or Abrahamic point of view, arising from the Colonial superstructure of our Intelligentsia. Further- since admittance to the Intelligentsia is entirely dependent on toeing the line on such matters, scholars often end up pigeonholing themselves into the same Semitic worldview- just to fit into the Mainstream.
Devdutt Pattanaik is just another example of this.
Pattanaik has been a fixture on the Indian pop-mythology scene for the better part of two decades. Indeed, he has been Indian pop-mythology for the better part of two decades. As such, he has done almost irreparable damage to the way lots of Indians view their past and their culture. The key reasons for this are three-fold, all emerging from trying to squeeze an Indo-European worldview into a Semitic mould:-
Again and again and again, Indologists and pop-mythologists insist upon not only standing judgement on the ancestors of modern Indians but doing so in mock trials where modern Indians are denied even a defence. Consider the recent events of the past few days- sparked of when Mr Devdutt Pattanaik went on a tirade against Brahmins based on the persecution allegedly faced by the Marathi poet Dnyaneshwara and the Oriya poet Balarama Das. Of course- the fact that both wrote in their native languages, both were Brahmins themselves, and both got no small amount of support from the existing government structure- which included Brahmins as well- goes unsaid. Further in the course of his books, Mr Devdutt Pattanaik appears to consider Marxist-Liberal theories as a vital yardstick to judge the actions of Arya heroes.
The problems with this are several.
Firstly- the criticisms are mostly based on baseless, if not entirely erroneous, readings altogether. It is common knowledge that most modern Indologists and eminent historians have little knowledge of Sanskrit or other Classical languages such as Suraseni. Such was on full display at the end of Mr Pattanaik’s recent Twitter meltdown where Mr Nityanand Misra, an IIMB alumni who is also a Sanskritist and Author, demonstrated the fallacious translations done by Mr Devdutt Pattanaik in his recent works.
The consequences of this are severe. What Mr Pattanaik appears to have done is to beef up his limited Sanskrit knowledge with copious amounts of third-party translations and English transliterations. As such- he falls in the trap even Seventeenth century scholars like the legendary Willian Jones or general Charles Stuart cautioned the first generation of Indologists against- seeing truth in propaganda. In his works, Mr Devdutt Pattanaik is clearly borrowing from the pop-culture of Buddhism (more on the term later). He clearly attributes to the Buddha the concepts of Monasticism, Asceticism, and the usual pop-culture view on non-violence, women’s rights, and anti-casteism. All this is incorrect- though this is neither the time nor place for a full explanation.
Secondly- It is not uncommon to find ‘Indologists’ butchering Indian texts into nonsense. Consider the so-called Manu Smriti, well hated by Liberal and Ambedkarites. Not one of these people have read the work; I guarantee it. If readers take a look, they’ll find that the text is hodgepodge of self-contradictory, chaotic, and nonsensical doctrines without any organization or reason.
What the Manu Smriti was, in fact, was a collection of texts drawn from a vast chunk of North India, centred on Lucknow and Calcutta, and compiled and translated haphazardly by British government and Company scholars. It is no surprise that the greatest contributor to Indology would be a German, Max Muller, and semi-independent William Jones, part of Dr Johnson’s club. To look upon the entire corpus of Arya literature- written over a massive swathe of human history from as early as the third millennia BC to the fifth century CE- and lump it into a set of persistent tautologies based on erroneous translations is an absurdity of the highest order- and yet, Mr Pattanaik manages to accomplish it.
One can almost imagine Mr Devdutt Pattanaik comparing and contrasting the clean lines of Biblical literature with that of the multifarious, multiple lines of Indian literature and grimacing in frustration. Readers need only look at his talk on Greek and India literature in order to get a sense of this; Mr Pattanaik clearly finds Greek religious literature- butchered and chopped up in easily-digestible blocks by centuries of Christianization- a far more topic to handle than the multi-headed hydra that is Arya thought.
Lastly- such criticism is not logical, let alone practical, to consider the actions of Classical or pre-Classical societies on the yardstick of the present. No other peoples in the World do so- save Indians. You will never find Chinese scholars filling up vast books on the slave trade in their lands. Nor will you find European historians ranting incessantly on the witch-burnings there. But it is Indians and Indians alone who would harp on the alleged faults of the Arya way of life and tolerate eminent historians like Dr Wendy Doniger calling works like the Bhagavad Gita, ‘violent’.
All cultures are to be looked upon in the proper timeframe; what persons like Mr Devdutt Pattanaik have done is to infantilize, nay- ignore- all of Indian history in favour of harping upon a set of pet grievances. As a result, we have an incredible situation at present where all the names universally acknowledged as the greatest in Indology belong to those dead for decades, if not centuries. Why break one’s back trying to uncover lost Haryanka palaces when one can mention yet another ‘re-imagination’ of Draupadi?
There is the Ramayana- the version said to have been penned by Valmiki- and there are Ramayanas- the Kamban Ramayana, the Javanese Ramayana, the Oriya Ramayana, etc. The logical answer would be to read all, present the Valmiki Ramayana, and elaborate on the others separately. Instead- Mr Pattanaik combines them all into… something… with often, hilarious results.
Consider this- the Valmiki Ramayana features a Hanuman who is a celibate, stoic and grim ascetic. The Javanese Hanuman is the product of centuries of cross pollination from both the Indian accounts of Hanuman- as well as the Chinese interpretations of Hanuman that had flown into the country from India centuries ago and merged with local legends of monkey lords- thus, producing a happy-go-lucky womanizing and cheerful warlord. Mr Pattanaik has tried to combine both versions into one characters in Sita- and made a mess of both.
This is not all.
The current pop-culture version of Buddhism we have in India is heavily based on- to be honest- daydreams by British Indologist Alexander Cunningham and carried forward by Dr Ambedkar. It has little, probably nothing, to do with the Buddhism preached by the Buddha himself- or the Buddhism of the Great Councils, or that of the Mahasiddhas of Classical India. Indeed- the term ‘Buddhism’ itself is meaningless since the idea of organized religion per se, to refer to the works of Dr Reza Arslan, is a Christian concept that began with Paul of Tarsus.
What did exist in India was, instead, a school of philosophy- much like hundreds of others. Early ‘Buddhists’- if the term can even be used- worshipped the same gods, followed similar social customs, and maintained very similar doctrines as the scholars of the Ajivikas, the Jainas, the Samanas, or those in the footsteps of more ‘extreme’ philosophers such as the Keshakamabali. Even to this day, Kubera- god of wealth for the Aryas- is worshipped as a war god in Japan, a state of affairs that would be utterly unexplainable to anyone if we went by the teachings of eminent historians and pop-mythologists.
Thus, we find that Mr Devdutt Pattanaik ’s popular works- commonly passed off as works of scholarship- are the equivalent of complete gibberish.
Mr Pattanaik bases the characters of his fictions- aye, they are fictions and have little to do with Indian religious texts- on multiple adaptations done over the millennia by multiple cultures, with no rhyme or reason to the entire exercise. While he does provide a few footnotes which might help a reader to understand what he is doing, the truth pf the matter remains that the final works penned by Mr Pattanaik are not only jarring to read and confusing- but also provide a false view of Aryanism per se.
Coupled with this is the unfortunate fact that we have already stated- Mr Pattanaik has no real knowledge of Sanskrit and other Classical languages. Thus, we find that the errors in Mr Pattanaik’s works are so many and so fundamental that it puts rather a dark pall on his claims of being an expert on Vedic culture.
It is this which lies at the heart of the conflicts between Mr Devdutt Pattanaik and several new ‘Hindu’ historians and writers such as Mr Rajiv Malhotra- apart from the rather damning claims of plagiarism that have only grown more and more disturbing over the years.
Which leads us to wonder- why Mr Pattanaik enjoys such popularity over other competing writers and thinkers? Surely it is not a matter of scholarship; for there are greater thinkers than him especially since a no-namer like I can easily poke holes into his works. Neither is it a matter of presentation for the average young educated Indian is, at heart, a very uncreative individual who can be swayed easily by even the pettiest of words. Neither is it a question of intellectual integrity- as anyone can see.
Modern Indologist are a fascinating type of creature who will not be able to tell you the name of their great-grandfathers or the name of their own city’s founder- but have no compunctions about holding court on events that happened 6000 years ago or more. For some fascinating reason, Indian academia feels it justified to dismiss the entire 1200 year long stretch we call ‘Classical India’- when Indian cultures, sciences, military might, and technology saw its greatest flowering- and instead, obsesses incessantly on the what colour the horses of their mythical Aryans were when they came riding into the Continent.
This Marxist view of history flows into the narrative of a divided India, fit only to be ruled by ancestors.
Indian history, therefore, ceases to be an arena where we can explore the truths of how we became what we are. Instead it serves primarily as a denial of what we are. From worshipping our ancestors as the Aryas once did, we have now denigrated into scum who must mock them and deny them at every stage- lest we lose the tag of being ‘modern’.
Hang shoes on statues of Maryada Purushottam Rama! He is an Aryan patriarchal bigot!
Boycott Raksha Bandhan! It is oppression by brothers upon sisters!
Ban Jallikattu! It is animal cruelty!
All are lies- and yet, thanks to pop-mythologists and eminent historians, they are reported ad nauseum. If Mr Pattanaik is the face of pop-mythologists today, why is he even calling himself a champion of Indian ‘mythology’?
Mr Devdutt Pattanaik’s views in support of the eminent historians who peddle the absurd Aryan invasion lie and his hatred for the few Western Indologists- such as Dr Danino and Dr Elst- who do write in support of true Indian history ought to serve to bar him outright from penning a word on Indian culture and history in general.
Instead it is matter of shame that such individuals are glorified beyond measure, called to lecture similar money-obsessed youth on how they should hate themselves and their fellow Indians, and plagiarize texts from better thinkers and scholars. Clearly the society that allows this travesty is verifiably nuts. When we look at the posh glitterati of India’s metros mock the ‘cattle class’, when we see entire States under siege in the east and the south, when we see empty-headed morons peddle lies like the Aryan-Dravidian myth, when we see scam worth thousands of crores one in broad daylight, there is no other explanation for the current events.
Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first cause to go insane… as was said of King Dhritarashtra in the Mahabharata. Let’s hope Mr Pattanaik sees fit to mention this to his bull-headed charges one day.