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The Re-discovery Of India!

Hindustan is the 1000-year-old Persian name of India. In the early 20th Century, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (May 28, 1883 – February 26, 1966) – the Indian Independence activist and politician who formulated the Hindu nationalist philosophy of Hindutva – had started projecting Hindustan as a land of Hindus where Muslims were outsiders. Perhaps, people, like Savarkar, had failed to remember the fact that the name Hindustan was created by Muslim authors. Almost all the eminent authors, from Persian-Indian Historian Muhammad Qasim Ferishta Hindu Shah (1560-1620), in his publication Tárikh-i Firishta, to Sir Allamma Iqbal (November 9, 1877 – April 21, 1938), had specifically used the term Hindustan in their writings. In his latest publication ‘The Loss of Hindustan: The Invention of India‘, Manan Ahmed Asif has made an attempt to trace the Hindustan that is lost by analysing the vastness of the Persian History of India.

In 515 BCE, Darius I annexed the Indus Valley, including Sindhu (the present day Sindh in Pakistan), which was called ‘Hindu’ in Persian. During the time of Xerxes, the term Hindu was also applied to the lands to the east of Indus. In middle Persian, probably from the 1st Century CE, the suffix – stān – was added, indicative of a country or region, forming the present word Hindūstān. Thus, Sindh was referred to as Hindūstān in the Naqsh-e-Rustam inscription of Shapur I in 262 CE. Historian B N Mukherjee stated that from the lower Indus basin, the term Hindūstān got gradually extended to “more or less the whole of the subcontinent“. The Greco-Roman name ‘India’ and the Chinese name ‘Shen-tu’ also followed a similar evolution. The Arabic term ‘Hind’, derived from Persian ‘Hindu’, was used by the Arabs to refer to the Indianised region from the Makran coast to the Indonesian archipelago. However, it, too, eventually became identified with the Indian Sub-continent.

Asif, highly influenced by Ferishta, has reconsidered the trend of Persian Historiography in an attempt to establish that Muslims used to consider Hindustan as their motherland and Hindus as their neighbours. At the same time, he has tried to find out how the English and other European scholars went on to create the idea of ‘India’ to replace the concept of ‘Hindustan’ with it. According to the English scholars, the Hindus have been living in India for 5,000 years, while the Muslims were outsiders to India! Asif believes that Ferishta was the best historian of Hindustan, who wanted to narrate the story of the entire nation, instead of describing the activities of different regional rulers. Interestingly, the English scholars, too, used to refer to the works by Ferishta in the 18th Century onwards, mostly to portray the Muslim rulers of India as ‘Foreigners’. Asif has refuted this trend of Colonialism, and tried to restore the lost social and intellectual aspects of Hindustan narrated in Persian History.

Historians are well aware of these two narratives in different ways. Historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar (December 10, 1870 – May 19, 1958) had recognised the importance of Persian narrative while writing the history of Medieval India. Recently, Muzaffar Alam, the George V Bobrinskoy Professor in South Asian Languages and Civilisations at the University of Chicago, and his students have emphasised on the Persian version of Indian History. Furthermore, pioneers of Modern Colonial History, such as Ranajit Guha, late Edward Wadie Said of Columbia University and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, have been criticising the English historians since the 1970s. Asif has nurtured both the narratives in his thought process. His main achievement is to combine the two different versions of the Indian History in an attempt to re-evaluate the history of Hindustan. Asif has urged Medieval Historians to abandon English narratives (e.g., Muslims are ‘foreigners’ or ‘victorious’, and Hindus are ‘conquered’), and to concentrate on the Persian version of Hindustan in an attempt to understand the history of Indian Sub-continent. Again, he has requested Modern Historians to look at the 1000-year-old history of greater Hindustan, instead of getting imprisoned in history of Nation-State, like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Muhammad Qasim Ferishta

English Scholars, like James Mill or Alexander Dow, used to believe that there was no basic philosophy in the Persian narrative of history… one would have to go through many stories to get accurate information about a particular issue. Asif has strongly criticised this view. Once, Abu’l-Faḍl Bayhaqi (995 AD – September 21, 1077) – a Persian secretary, historian, author and a member of the court of first independent ruler of the Turkic Dynasty of Ghaznavids Mahmud of Ghazni (November 2, 971 AD – April 30, 1030) – had said that Historians could be paid employees of the King, but history, written by them, would only be a slave of the future generations. In other words, although historians have some compulsions, history should not deviate from the path of truth. Asif has identified this principle of Bayhaqi as the main essence of Hindustani History… as if it is an answer to Power, a kind of contrapuntal or manifestation. These values have returned to the works of historians over the centuries… from Abū Muḥammad Aḥmad ibn Aʿtham al-Kūfī al-Kindī, Jujaini, Khonda Mir, Ziauddin Barani, Abul Fazl to Bayhaqi. Bayhaqi did not spare Mahmud of Ghazni either, due to these values or principles. Hence, he went on to describe Mahmud of Ghazni’s decision to attack the Somnath Temple as a stupid act by a stubborn ruler! Of course, there can be a debate on whether all historians respect these values. However, he had saved the History of Hindustan from old scandals with the help of morality and facts.

Apart from having a sense of responsibility for the future generations, Bayhaqi used to consider Hindustan not as a battlefield for Muslims, but their motherland, and Hindus as their neighbours. Hence, he did not concentrate only on the sultanate genealogy of Delhi. Instead, he had made an attempt to trace the history of various regions, like Lahore, Deccan, Gujarat, Malabar, Khandesh, Bengal, Bihar, Multan, Sindh, Kashmir, etc., while portraying the image of Hindustan. According to Asif, this effort helped Bayhaqi differentiate himself from his predecessors. His descriptions of the people, kings and merchants of each region perfectly portrayed Hindustan’s diverse culture. It may be noted that the Portuguese had started arriving in India at the time of Bayhaqi. To the Europeans, India was an unknown barbaric nation at that period of time. However, Bayhaqi had described the Hindus as his own countrymen.

Abu’l-Faḍl Bayhaqi

Indeed, there lies a need for a deeper analysis of what Bayhaqi meant by ‘Country‘. Although Asif has admitted that Bayhaqi used to live in the southern part of India, he has remained silent on the significance of the historian’s southern acquaintance. Perhaps, that is why some 18th Century English scholars, like Jonathan Scott, used to consider Bayhaqi as a local historian of the Deccan region. However, Asif has made a serious attempt to establish him as a Persian-Indian historian.

A question arises here: What is wrong in being regional? It is clear from Asif’s larger narrative that the perimeter of Hindustan is obscure… Bayhaqi’s Hindustan is different from that of Babur Shah (February 14, 1483 – December 26, 1530). Each and every author has described Hindustan from her/his own perspective, culture and unique social position. It is important to understand the difference between Hindustan and Delhi-centric India. This difference triggered the variations in the Persian narratives of history. Hence, the two contemporary scholars – Abul Fazl and Ferishta – narrated historical events in a different manner. At a time when Abul Fazl, sitting in Agra, was fascinated by Mughal Emperor Akbar’s glory; Ferishta claimed that regional rulers fought hard against the English, Portuguese and other foreign invaders. According to Ferishta, Emperor Akbar had done nothing to stop those foreign enemies! The Regional Historian revealed the Truth in the interest of Hindustan without caring about the Mughal emperor. Abul Fazl did not dare to speak out the fact.

Manan Ahmed Asif

Perhaps, the regional multidimensionality is the real asset of Hindustan that has been rendered into oblivion. Alexander Dow‘s 18th Century translation of Bayhaqi’s great work began and ended only with the history of Delhi. According to Asif, it was the end of Hindustan and the beginning of India. To restore the memory of Hindustan, it is imperative to reconsider the relationship between the Hindus and the Muslims, and to understand the relationship between Greater Hindustan and the different communities living in this country. Even a few years back, there was a deep appeal of that Hindustan among the regional thinkers. So, Allamma Iqbal from Punjab had penned down possibly the best poem about Hindustan. Maybe even today, that appeal is not completely lost. It is hidden in the concept of Hindustan.

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