Articles- THE HINDU

Introduction – 2: Reality of India’s Past

Most of us, who have gone through school, college, etc., have been largely brought up on images of general impoverishment and misery, and of inefficient technologies and low productivities, pervading through long ages in practically all parts of India. During the days of Gandhiji those engaged in the freedom movement and others sympathetic to it began to challenge this text-book image of India’s misery and of her poor technical and productive capacities. During the 1920’s Mahatma Gandhi’s “Young India” presented a large amount of data suggesting the complex organisation of Indian society, and the general spiritual and cultural richness and material prosperity of Indian life till just before India came under British dominance. But due to more pressing claims - primarily the winning of India’s freedom - this Indian picture could not then be given real body and flesh.

Detailed historical research in this direction began to be undertaken in a fairly intensive manner since the beginning of the 1960’s. However, somehow the decades of the 18th century were not well attended to in the research thrust. One of the books, published in 1971, which compelled academic and general attention to this period of our society, was “Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century: Some Contemporary European Accounts”, by Dharampal. The accounts in this book presented an entirely new picture of flourishing sciences and effective technologies that seemed to have prevailed in all spheres of Indian life, and which seemed to have impressed and baffled most of the European observers of the time. Dharampal’s other book, “The Beautiful Tree: Indian Indigenous Education in the Eighteenth Century”, largely dealing with the extent of education, and number of schools and colleges in southern India, was another landmark in this research into the reality of India’s indigenous past. The book alas has been out of print for several years.

The first finding of some abstracts of the data on Chengalpattu Survey of Mr. Thomas Bernard, on which the following articles are based, was made in London in 1967. This data in its detailed form, however, is available only in Tamil Nadu State Archives at Madras. The more detailed original palm-leaf accounts of the survey are now lodged in the Tamil University of Thanjavur. The archives in Great Britain, including the India Office Library, where most of the other British generated Indian archival material from about 1680, and more so from 1784 to 1947, is to be had, do not possess this material.

The results of all such historical researches have yet to be incorporated in the text-books which are used in various states and regions of India. These articles in the “Hindu” thus make a beginning towards the creation of a general awareness of the reality of the indigenous Indian past.

J. K. Bajaj and T. M. Mukundan
Centre for Policy Studies
April 2, 1991