A Rejoinder to N. S. Rajaram's "Indology: Skeletons in the closet"

By Robert E. Wilkinson

"...for some two thousand years at least no Indian has really understood the Veda."
The Gods of the Veda - Sri Aurobindo Archives & Research, December, 1984.

N. S. Rajaram is a man with a mission. From what he writes, one gets the impression that he alone can save India from the imposition of so-called fraudulent Euro-colonial interpretations of Vedic history and its ancient scriptures. He is clearly possessed of a messianic zeal to rid the sub-continent of what he calls intruders, [read: foreigners] charlatans and negationists and their inferior colonial scholarship. Rajaram alone knows the truth and will expose and persecute any who dare to suggest historical and scriptural interpretations that run counter to his own. Like many demagogues he has wrapped himself in the mantle of nationalist purity and pride, a self-righteous posture that virtually guarantees the projection of his unrecognized inner demons onto the world around him. In the article below, for example, one can easily see the racism and prejudice lurking behind the unrelenting vehemence with which he ridicules and attacks his opponents. That said, one cannot deny that Rajaram has a certain intelligent command of history and the scriptures. But in lofty matters such as scriptural interpretation, intelligence without realization can never rise above the level of opinion, and to assert ones unsupported opinions as the highest truth as Rajaram does, simply reeks of pretension.

In a 2002 article entitled [1] "Indology: Skeletons in the closet", Mr. Rajaram wields his pretentious intellect like a club and bolsters his self-importance by holding up to ridicule an article on the Rig Veda written by the seer-cosmologist, Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet. Without real knowledge to support his arguments, Rajaram goes on the offensive. The more strident he can be in presenting his case, the more likely, he thinks, he will be believed. This has become an unfortunate sign of our times when rude and aggressive assertion is mistaken for the authority of knowledge. It echoes the sentiment in Yeats' famous poem when he wrote, "…The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

Wisdom, on the other hand, needs no vehement assertion. It is impersonal, straightforward, self-evident and humble. Moreover, it is the product of direct lived experience which, in yogic parlance, is called Gnosis - Knowledge. The conclusions set forth in Ms. Norelli-Bachelet's article."Cosmology in the Rig Veda" [2] arise from her direct yogic experience and reveal the deepest secrets of this ancient text. In contrast, Mr. Rajaram is a mathematician and historian, not a yogi. His specious claims give no indication of having any direct insight into the inner meaning of these ancient scriptures. Yet he condemns with unquestioned authority the cosmological wisdom set forth in Ms. Norelli-Bachelet's article. For people of knowledge, this kind of arrogant punditry is simply unacceptable and must be confronted in all particulars.

We need not read more than two sentences of Rajaram's article before we recoil from the repellent odor of xenophobia. This is immediately followed in the next paragraph by a condemnation of Ms. Norelli-Bachelet's statements concerning the cosmic meaning of the Rig Veda as preposterous. Rajaram goes on to call her a colonialist thinker and a charlatan imposing medieval astrological conceptions on the Vedic scriptures with which, he says, she is entirely unfamiliar. He continues in this condescending vein saying:

"…Even more absurdly, Norelli-Bachelet invoked Sri Aurobindo's Secret of the Veda as authority for her 'cosmic' in reality astrological interpretations, for there is no suggestion of astrology in that work. Her exercise gives rise to anachronisms like imposing the much later zodiac (rashi) on Vedic readings, of which there is no hint in the Vedas of Sri Aurobindo. Even the later Vedanga Jyotisha uses the ancient nakshatra system and not the rashis, which came more than a thousand years later. All this suggests that Norelli-Bachelet is not at all familiar with the original sources or Sri Aurobindo but has simply used them to give authority and an appearance of authenticity to her own views. This smacks of a charlatan - not a scholar." N.S. R

For those who are not immediately put off by his aggressive and arrogant tone, a review of the facts will put to rest any notion of credibility in the rest of what Rajaram writes.

Numerous students and devotees throughout the world familiar with Ms. Norelli-Bachelet's writings know her to be the preeminent authority on Sri Aurobindo's work and message. She has written over a dozen books and numerous articles on Sri Aurobindo's and the Mother's yoga and has taken his commentaries on the Rig Veda to even greater heights, the equal of which have yet to be seen. Rajaram, having no such bona fides can only rely on posturing and bluster to support his claims. Since his strongest objections are based upon a mulish disbelief in the cosmological knowledge contained in the Veda, let us carefully examine what Ms. Norelli-Bachelet has written in the light of the Vedic scriptures themselves.

While the complete text of her article is attached as an addendum below, we may summarize her conclusions by stating that her research into the Vedas reveals that the Rishis were in possession of a universal language of initiates based upon the zodiacal archetypes. This together with a profound knowledge of the laws of correspondence and equivalency formed the basis of their thought. Contrary to Mr. Rajaram's assertions, this zodiacal knowledge has nothing to do with astrology as we know it today.

["…The Rishi's] concern was the vast movement of consciousness and the oneness of micro and macrocosm; and the eternal character of the cosmos is what adds a timeless value to the language they used to compose the hymns. If we learn that language we can easily understand what appear to be cryptic phrases." P N-B

No one will deny that the ancient Rishis were concerned with the deepest truths of reality. It follows therefore that the proto-Vedic realization was entirely Cosmogonic. "The Hymn of Creation" speaks to the depth of their inquiry into the origins of the existence itself. But it is the verses to 'Skambha' in the Atharvaveda that reveal the greatest mystery.

"One is the wheel; the bands are twelve;

three are the hubs - who can understand it?
Three hundred spokes and sixty in addition
have been hammered therein and firmly riveted…
Though manifested, it is yet hidden, secret,
its name is the Ancient, a mighty mode of being;
in Skambha is established this whole world;
therein is set fast all that moves and breathes."
                                (Atharva Veda X, 8)

Skambha takes us into the very heart of creation and unveils the mystery of 'everything that moves and breathes'. Its ontological significance as the 'Support of the Worlds' follows upon the Rishi's declaration that the universe was born and developed from a core, a central point (Rig Veda X -149) as if the 'hub of a wheel'. Sri Aurobindo affirms this vivid imagery when he writes: "Consciousness is Concentric, It has always a Center and a Periphery." All that happens in the periphery extends from and has its origin in the Hub or Center. Through the laws of correspondence and the Rishis liberal use of parallelisms, we discover that this Cosmological principle holds equally true for planetary, individual and organic systems. One need only look up at the Sun and our own solar system to see the eternal pattern that inspired this integral vision.

When Ms. Norelli-Bachelet writes of the 'four oceans', or the 'eastern and western oceans'; or in the Atharvaveda 'northern, upper ocean'. All of these are clear and unmistakable pointers to the cosmological content of the Veda. They cannot be interpreted otherwise. Specifically, they are references to the four Cardinal Points on that ecliptic "wheel of twelve bands with its three-hundred and sixty spokes" upon which the Earth is balanced as she voyages around the cosmic ocean in her orbit around the Sun. And this is not simply poetic imagery but an invitation from the Rishis for us to recreate this journey in ourselves. As the renown scholar Mircea Eliade wrote:

"We must never lose sight of the fact that the tantric universe is made up of an endless series of analogies, homologies, and symmetries; starting from any level, one can establish mystical communication with the others, in order finally to reduce them to unity and master them… for it is by repeating and reliving the cosmic Great Time, the periodic cycles of the universe that we are able to cosmicize the body and the psycho-mental life." [emphasis mine] Mircea Eliade - Yoga

>As Ms. Norelli-Bachelet explains and Eliade agrees, it is the lived human experience of this cosmic voyage through the months and the years that the Rishis held as the 'secret of secrets' , the mightiest work, the fairest achievement and it hinges on the conquest of time. This is not conjecture, it is Veda - Knowledge and these eternal cosmological truths can be realized by anyone who is willing to follow the ancient path.

>In the final analysis, Rajaram's attack on Ms. Norelli-Bachelet is baseless and cruel. His arguments simply do not meet the test of knowledge. In Vedic terminology he is the serpent Vritra, a coverer of truth, who ignorantly thinks he can elevate his own stature and authority by denouncing a sage. How pathetic. It puts one in mind of those lesser birds who strafe and heckle the Eagle as she cut her magnificent arc through the sky. >



Addendums: 2

[1] Indology: Skeletons in the closet

Author: N S Rajaram
Publication: Organiser
Date: October 13, 2002

Introduction: The history and historiography of India still carry the colonial imprint. This has allowed unqualified individuals to comment on India simply because they are Westerners.

In an article "Cosmology in the Rigveda- The Third Premise" (The Hindu, 9-7-2002) Patriazia Norelli-Bachelet made sweeping statements regarding the Rigveda and its cosmic meaning-through her 'cosmic' interpretation boiled down to imposing astrological readings on the hymns with ideas that came much later. She also made the preposterous claim: "The ancients were not at all concerned with keeping records for posterity as we do today." The very fact that generations of Vedic priests took extraordinary pains to preserve the Vedas is proof enough that they did want to preserve them for posterity. How else did they survive?

The idea that Indians have no sense of history is a European conceit-not any Indian view'. It was Karl Marx, not any ancient Indian sage who insisted that India had no history, and what is called history is simply a record of successive intruders. This has now become the central dogma of the Marxist school as indeed it has for the inheritors of the Eurocentric colonial thinking like Michael Witzel. This is what brings together the Indian Marxists and some Western Indologists on the issue of the Aryan invasion (or migration). And despite her claims to being a cosmic thinker, Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet's constructions place her squarely in the same camp. (And yet the same people criticize the Hindus. for raising the history of Ayodhya, Somnath and a thousand other temple destructions!)

Factual blunders

Even more absurdly, Norelli-Bachelet invoked Sri Aurobindo's Secret of the Veda as authority for her 'cosmic' in reality astrological interpretations, for there is no suggestion of astrology in that work. Her exercise gives rise to anachronisms like imposing the much later zodiac (rashi) on Vedic readings, of which there is no hint in the Vedas of Sri Aurobindo. Even the later Vedanga Jyotisha uses the ancient nakshatra system and not the rashis, which came more than a thousand years later. All this suggests that Norelli-Bachelet is not at all familiar with the original sources or Sri Aurobindo but has simply used them to give authority and an appearance of authenticity to her own views. This smacks of a charlatan-not a scholar.

But Norelli-Bachelet doesn't stop here: her anachronistic exercise of imposing medieval astrology on ancient texts, with which she is entirely unfamiliar, has led her to insist on reading Vedic oceanic references as strictly celestial myths. While such symbolism does exist in the Rigveda, the very fact that the Vedic poets mythologized in terms of the sea and ships shows they were intimately familiar with them. Myths and legends associated with the elephant headed God Ganesha were not created by people who had never seen the elephant; nor was the Sphinx created by Egyptians who had never seen the lion.

The fact is that oceanic references in the Rigveda cannot so easily be brushed aside just because they are inconvenient to the upholders of a -particular theory-a theory that holds that the Vedas originated outside India. The motive behind such negationist arguments is clear: following the collapse of the "No horse at Harappa" argument, denying the ocean in the Rigveda has become the last resort for placing the Vedic origins outside India. So "No Harappan horse" has given way to "No Vedic ocean", not to mention the denial of the Sarasvati River in the Rigveda. This, the essence of Witzel's 'philology', is nothing but negationism.

The real issue here is not that such absurd theories continue to be projected, but that a person of Norelli-Bachelet's credentials or lack of both credentials and credibility-is able to get prominent space in a major English language publication in India for the sole reason that she is a Westerner. Nor is she is the only one. Steve Farmer, a California computer programmer, became a hero overnight to a segment of the Indian media simply by virtue of his being a Westerner and anti-Hindu to boot. (Farmer may not like being called a computer programmer, but that is the only thing about him we are certain about. At various times he has claimed to be a comparative historian, Sinologist, historian of science, a graphics expert and as the occasion suited him, an Indologists.) It seems that to write about India-and taken seriously-all one needs are presumption and the right skin color.

History or colonial theology?

Setting aside such absurdities, what is really at issue is the teaching of history and creating suitable methodology for the study of ancient India. The Vedas are part of Indian history and this history cannot be based on wild speculation in the name of cosmology or twisted in response to cries of 'saffronization'. In order to place history and historiography on a firm footing, it is important to focus on fundamentals-both facts and methodology. The last few decades have thrown up new data from diverse sources that pose a major challenge to historians and old theories. In order to preserve historical methods that some scholars are comfortable with, there are continuing attempts to negate data that contradict existing theories; Michael Witzel, Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib are among prime exponents of such negationism. This has led to scientifically unsupportable claims like Eurasian horses undergoing drastic anatomical change by shedding ribs upon entering India, and the attribution of genetic causes to man-made social classifications like caste. Speculation in the name of cosmology is the worst of these. It has no place in history, especially in teaching children,

The current debate, ranging from Vedic interpretations to scientific contradictions, brings an important point to light: it is not enough to correct or remove distortions like the Aryan invasion; nothing less than a fundamental re-examination of the underlying historiography is called for. Otherwise, more speculations and conjectures that contradict empirical data are inevitable. When we do take a close look at colonial historiography, two facts stand out. First, the use of education as a political tool to sustain European rule. Secondly, the application of a theological approach to history by scholars more familiar with Christian beliefs than science. This included such luminaries as F. Max Muller who rejected Darwin's Theory of Evolution in favour of the Biblical Creation Theory, which holds that the world was created with all its life forms at 9.00 AM, October 23, 4004 BC. Lord Macaulay, who sponsored Max Muller, made no secret of his plan to use education as a tool in colonial administration. In his own words: "We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect." This was an integral part of the British divide and rule strategy, for it created a privileged elite that had a stake in colonial rule. As Lord Elphinstone, Governor of Bombay, observed, "Divide and rule was Roman policy, and it should be ours."

But Macaulay and other educators went further. They wanted Christianity to replace Hinduism, which they felt would cement the rulers and the Indian elite further. In a letter to his father, a Protestant minister, Macaulay wrote: "Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully. The effect of this education on the Hindus is prodigious. ...It is my belief that if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolator among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence." And his protege Max Muller happily concurred in a letter to his wife: "It (The Rigveda) is the root of their religion and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last three thousand years." Two years later he also wrote the Duke of Argyle, the then acting Secretary of State for India: "The ancient religion of India is doomed. And if Christianity does not take its place, whose fault will it be?" Reverend W.W. Hunter was still more blunt when he said: "Scholarship is warmed by the holy flame of Christian zeal."

It was this zeal for making Indian sources conform to a Eurocentric belief system that is responsible for the present unhappy state of Indian historiography. There were supplementary causes like German nationalism and crackpot race theories that played a role but have moved to the fringes though race occasionally raises its head in Indo-European studies. (And now in the guise of genetics tries to revive invasion theories.) After independence, Marxism, another Eurocentric doctrine, moved to fill the vacuum left by the retreat of Euro-colonialism. Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet's singular cosmology is simply the latest belief system to try to encroach on the field of Vedic history.

Residue of Euro-colonialism While Macaulay is dead and European colonialism is a thing of the past, the education and values that they fostered on the Indian elite continue to dominate the establishment. It is hardly surprising that its representatives in academia and the media should be excessively deferential towards Westerners and easily intimidated by presumption of racial superiority. This has allowed not only discredited scholars like Witzel but even outright charlatans like Steve Fanner and Norelli-Bachelet to get respectful hearing in Indian intellectual circles and the media. This is a damning indictment of the secular' intellectual establishment in India: it has become refuge of Euro-colonial values and covert race supremacist advocates.

This has allowed some Western scholars and their Indian followers to negate new evidence and block progress. Scholars continue to use linguistic arguments in support of their claims, but we now have a new twist-with some New Age protagonists insisting that everything should be read in cosmological terms though what is correct cosmology lies in the eye of the beholder. Linguistics has shown itself to be of limited value while cosmology gives rise to fiction and fantasy. One of the main goals of educational reform should be to get rid of this colonial residue.

Swami Vivekananda, who possessed both deep scholarship and true spirituality, said more than a century ago: "Study Sanskrit, but along with it study Western sciences as well. Learn accuracy, ...study and labor so that the time will come when you can put our history on a scientific basis. ...Now it is for us to strike out an independent path of historical research for ourselves, to study the Vedas and Puranas and the ancient annals (Itihasas) of India, and from them make it your sadhana (disciplined endeavor) to write accurate, sympathetic and soul-inspiring history of India. It is for Indians to write Indian history ... you never cease to labour until you have revived the glorious past of India in the consciousness of the people. That will be the true national education, and with its advancement, a true national spirit will be awakened".

More than a century later, this is yet to happen though a few tentative steps are being taken. It will happen only when Indian scholars shake off their inferiority complex and the last vestige of colonial 'scholarship' is rooted out.

[2] 'Cosmology in the Rig Veda' by Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet – published in 'The Hindu' Newpaper, on 9 July 2002 (as a response to article by David Frawley & David Witzel, who have brought to light the implausability of the Aryan Invasion Theory).

Webpage Notes: This rejoiner was written by Robert Wilkinson in October of 2006, after he saw the 2002 Rajaram article posted in the 'Hindu Calendar' Yahoo Group by Avtar Krishen Kaul (the group's moderator). Kaul removed the post containing Rajaram's article from the forum after receiving some complaints from members. Ms. Norelli-Bachelet's response to Kaul is recorded in the forum, and explains some of the history of the article. Norelli-Bachelet sent a legal-notice to the RSS's publication Organiser, N.S. Rajaram, and David Frawley for the slanderous article.