Alain Danielou approaches the history of India through the enduring institutions of its culture that have remained constant, despite the ephemeral historical events that have shaped its destiny. His synthesis and narration create a thoroughly engaging and readable journey through time, with a level of detail and comprehensiveness that is truly a marvel.
Because of the continuity of its civilization, its unique social system, and the tremendous diversity of cultures of its vast territory, India is like a history museum. Its diverse groups have maintained their separate identities, never fully supplanting the culture and knowledge of their predecessors. Even today one may encounter in India indigenous Stone Age people, whose technology has remained at what is considered prehistoric levels, existing side by side with computer engineers and rocket scientists. Thus Danielou’s examination of India reveals not only the diversity, historical events, and trends of that country, but also the history of all mankind. Through Danielou’s history of India we learn from whence we came; what we have discovered over the years in the fields of science, arts, technology, social structures, religions, and philosophical concepts; and what the future may hold for us.
Alain Danielou was born in Paris in 1907. After studying in France and the United States, he devoted himself to musicology, travelling in North Africa, the Middle East, China, Japan, and Indonesia. He then settled in India, first at Santiniketan and then at Benares, where for more than twenty years he studied Sanskrit, music, and philosophy with traditional Hindu scholars. In 1945, he was appointed Assistant Director/Professor of the College of Music at the Hindu University of Benares.
He founded and directed the Institute for Comparative Music Studies in Berlin and Venice, also directing the UNESCO anthologies of Oriental Music and Musical Sources. In 1971, he donated his precious library to the Cini Foundation in Venice. The author of more than thirty books on the religion, history, and arts of India and the Mediterranean, Alain Danielou died in 1994.
The various language of India contain very few chronicles that can be actually considered historical, except for relatively recent periods. However- owing to its situation, social system, and the continuity of its civilization – India is itself a sort of history museum, with separate departments preserving the cultures, races, languages, and religions that have come into contact over its vast territory, without ever mixing together or destroying each others. No invader has ever entirely eliminated the culture of the more ancient peoples, and new beliefs and knowledge have never supplanted the beliefs and knowledge of former times.
In this strange country, we may even today encounter Stone Age peoples- mariners who sew their boats together because they are unfamiliar with the use of metals, civilizations whose technology has remained at what we usually term prehistoric levels- yet these civilizations have preserved their languages, customs, traditions , philosophy, and religion down to our own time. The mysterious and ancient Dravidian civilization exists side by side with the other evolutionary levels of the great Indo-Aryan civilization that came from the north. In India the latter became the Sanskrit culture that coexists today with considerable vestiges of Iranian, Greek, Scythian, Parthian, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Persian, Arab, and European influences. In India too we find ancient forms of Judaism, survivals of primitive Christianity, and Paris who found refuge from an Islamized Iran.
The inexperienced observer is surprised by this profession of races, languages, and different customs, and finds it difficult to unravel the threads of this tangled maze. At the same time, a more profound study makes it easy to place each group and every aspects of life in its original context. Recognizing the tiny cultural islands surviving from periods almost forgotten elsewhere but which have been miraculously preserved in India can occasionally throw an astonishing light on the history of other parts of the world.
If we wish to understand India and utilize the facts, we must approach it using different methods from those we might employ for another country. This is because the history of India is not merely a chronology-a series of accounts of battles, conquests, and palace revolutions. It rests only momentarily on dynastic lists that appear ephemeral too vast for the events of any particular period to play a definitive role, and Hindus have never given much importance to passing events. The history of India-with its discoveries in the fields of Science, arts, technology, social structures, religions, and philosophical concepts – is the history of humankind, of our own human nature.
In its distant past, India was not an isolated country, as it has sometimes been in more recent centuries. The significant factors in India’s history-such as major invasions, the expansion of successive civilizations, and the efforts of the human mind to discover the inner nature of the world-have often come from the same sources that have forged the history of other peoples, and give us a glimpse of what our own prehistory may have been like. At times, the history of India takes us from the isles of Oceania to the Shores of the Atlantic. Owing to a curious phenomenon of the Indian spirit, the various currents meeting on Indian soil instead of destroying or replacing each other-become fixed on their arrival in this magic land. They remain unchanging, side by side, in an extraordinary eternal environment, where unchanging, side by side, in an extraordinarily eternal environment, where evolution appears to have halted and where events belonging to civilizations elsewhere separated by thousands of years appear to be almost contemporary.
The details of many of the views on India’s ancient history adopted in the first section of this study are still disputed today, although on the whole they are in line with the views of historians who have sought a general idea of the human adventure. We must not forgot that the concept of dividing the history of the various peoples into compartments arose at a time when the Western world refused to believe in humankind’s antiquity. At the end of the eighteenth century, “very few scholars including geologists were prepared to accept that he world was much older than 4,004 BC according to the interpretation of the Old Testament. “ Even at the end of the nineteenth century, the theosophist Bishop Lightfoot, following Kepler, calculated – apparently without covering himself with ridicule – that the world had been created at 9 A.M. on 23 October 4004 B.C.E. My own uncle, the cure of Saint-Pierre-de-Chaillot, affirmed at the beginning of the twentieth century that “since God is almighty, there was nothing to stop him from creating the world with corpses in it, “to explain away prehistorical discoveries in apparent contrast to the articles of faith, which today have been prudently forgotten.
The conclusion reached by geology, archaeology, and prehistorical studies have not so far managed to correct our historical concepts inherited from the nineteenth century. Even though such concepts are built on erroneous, data and on absolutely unjustifiable short-term evolutionary conceptions, they have been considered as established fact, in the name of which all Indian documents that contradict these theories have been rejected as works of fantasy. We should now take them up again. At no level-whether religious, linguistic, artistic, or philosophic-has there been any perceptible evolution developing from elementary primitive forms during the few thousands of years that we deem “historical.” History that does not take into account the heritage of older civilizations more or less purposely forgotten will never be more than fiction with a falsely scientific basis.
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