Obit: Dr N S Rajaram, A Pioneer And A Martyr To The Cause Of A Hindutva Narrative
Dr N S Rajaram passed away on 11 December 2019. He was a visionary and a pioneer.
If today the Hindutva side is developing an overall narrative that is vibrant and healthy it is because many pioneers like N S Rajaram had taken the brave initiative and suffered the blows as the ‘Empire struck back’.
Navratna Srinivasa Rajaram (Dr N S Rajaram) mathematician turned Hindutva-scholar came from a long line of scholars, notably Navratna Rama Rao, a great scholar in traditional Sanskrit, who has given us many literary works in Kannada as well as in English.
‘Navratna’ is a title given to the family of nine brothers by the Uttaradi Mutt Swamy for their contribution to our Dharmic tradition.
N S Rajaram started his professional career as an engineer. In India he had hands-on experience in installing electrical irrigation systems in the rural Pune region. He then moved to the United States for higher studies, pursuing a PhD in Mathematics from Indiana University.
After being a Mathematics lecturer at Kent State University for four years he moved again to applied science – joining the research division of Houston-based Lockheed Corporation. Here he worked on computer-aided image analysis of Landsat images sent by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
His name today remains as one of the pioneers who advocated Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based space endeavors. The conferences he organized on Robotics and Expert Systems was supported by NASA.
The conference proceedings published as ROBEX-85 and ROBEX-87 prevailed in the late eighties and early nineties as standard reference material in a fast-emerging field. Dr Rajaram also developed an application for AI-based industrial production.
It was then that N S Rajaram decided to change his domain. He entered the field of ancient Indian historiography. The inspiration came from David Frawley – the US based scholar on Vedic religion and history.
Despite the fact that the conclusions he derived from his studies differed vastly from the established chronology of mainstream Western Indology, there was no denying that Dr Rajaram was no crank writer given to fantasy.
He had the rigor of a mathematician that he was by training. But what provoked the mainstream Indologists was his bitter and mostly justified criticism of Christian evangelism and his linking of the established Indological narrative to colonial-evangelical enterprise.
Years before the ‘Da Vinci Code’, Rajaram had introduced into Hindutva’s intellectual encounter with Christianity, The Dead Sea Scrolls. He analyzed the existential crisis that a history-centric religion like Christianity would undergo with more and more archeological revelation. from a Hindu point of view. And this he did as early as 1997.
In a way, he made himself a lightning rod that would attract the wrath of an establishment whose powers derive their nourishment from fields far more than mere academia.
The material scientist and mathematician in Rajaram looked with disdain at the constructs of linguistics, which he even considered at times as nearing the definition of a pseudo-science.
In 1995, along with Dr Frawley, he published a work titled Vedic ‘Aryans’ and the origins of civilization: A literary and scientific perspective. Note that he enclosed the term Aryans within single inverted commas thus expressing his skepticism on the category of Aryans as a race.
He challenged the prevailing paradigm that the ancient world borrowed its science from Babylon and Mesopotamia. In hindsight,Tte following statement made by Rajaram and Frawley is indeed kind of predictive:
Western Indology today suffers from a weak scholarly base, and is in the main little more than a continuation of nineteenth century trends. The standard of Sanskrit scholarship in Europe and America is not high, and Indologists for the most part are repackaging nineteenth century translations using academic fashions of the moment like Marxism and Freudian analysis.
The foreword to this book was written by renowned Indologist, Dr Klaus Klostermaier, who had been, ironically, an advisor to the Papal office in the Vatican, on non-Christian religions.
The influence and impact of Rajaram's arguments made on Kolstermaier can be seen in the following statement the latter made in a paper he wrote on “Questioning the Aryan invasion theory and revising ancient Indian history” (1998):
The new element that has entered the debate is scientific investigations. While the older theory rested on exclusively philological arguments, the new theory includes astronomical, geological, mathematical and archaeological evidence. On the whole, the latter seems to rest on better foundations.
Dr Rajaram also earned quite a few enemies on the Hindu side when he rejected (again rightly) the claims of what was considered as ‘Vedic Mathematics’, which, in his view, were a few mathematical tricks for fast mental calculations.
Instead, he drew the attention of Hindu activists to works like the study of Sulba Sutras by Seidenberg, which he characterized as ‘real Vedic Mathematics’.
His work on the search for Sri Krishna reveals a Rajaram who was not someone who would make himself dear to the religious-minded in the narrow sense of religion as faith. Consider this:
If we look beyond the myths accumulated over millennia, we can get a clear picture of who Krishna actually was. He emerges as a human figure - a practical philosopher par excellence - who moved away from the ritualistic practices of the Vedic religion of his time to the action oriented Sankhya philosophy, embodied in his philosophy of Karma Yoga - of the Bhagavad Gita, which till date remains his transcendent legacy.
While it was easy for the Western Indologists and their Indian sepoys to generally characterize Hindutva response to colonial Indology as pseudo-scientific, they could not do the same with N S Rajaram’s work – not yet.
At a point in his book, Update on Aryan Invasion Debate (Voice of India, 1999), Belgian Indologist, Dr Koenraad Elst, provides an honest evaluation of the stand taken by Dr Rajaram against an attack on him by Romilla Thapar:
Though he does make much of the political context behind the linguistic theory of an East-European Urheimat, his point is, rather, that the reconstruction of a proto-language can never reach beyond the stage of mere hypothesis, for it cannot pass the decisive scientific test of empirical verifications. This critique is pertinent, though by no means as devastating for the scientific value of historical linguistics as Prof. Rajaram assumes; it is at any rate more than a convenient excuse.
Then, discussing astronomical evidence and evidence from ancient Indian Mathematics, Dr Elst stated that he “would rather trust a NASA scientist like Professor Rajaram than a bookworm from JNU’s History department.”
The chance for the establishment Indologists to discredit Rajaram came in the year 2000 when Dr Rajaram published The Deciphered Indus Script: Methodology, readings, interpretation, which he co-authored with Sanskrit scholar Natwar Jha (1938-2006).
There was a genuine error in the reproduction of a part-broken seal – most probably a depiction of a Unicorn was reconstructed with poor artistic skills as depicting a horse.
While the presence of a horse had been well attested in the Harappan archaeological context, its depiction on Harappan seals is rare.
So, the Western Indologists and a section of Indian media seized upon this and claimed to have ‘exposed’ a hoax of the proportion of ‘the notorious ‘Piltdown hoax’. With the media clout of a South Indian pro-Chinese anti-BJP media house, Harvard Sanskritist Prof Michael Witzel attributed motive and called it a hoax.
To his absolute shock, Rajaram found his name becoming identified with a hoax that never was by the sheer political clout of the establishment academia and lynch-mob journalism.
While the deciphering itself could have been debated and even dismissed as incorrect the charges against Rajaram and Jha crossed all limits of basic human decency and ethics. He was ridiculed and heckled.
Witzel and his sidekick Steve Farmer with the help of the media house, sometimes called ‘Mount Road Mao’, led from the front. This definitely traumatized Dr Rajaram. He also turned increasingly bitter.
Soon N S Rajaram and his work would be cited in literature after literature, both academic and popular, as an example of Hindutva Nazis trying to use hoaxes to prove Aryans as a pure indigenous race.
This was despite the fact that Dr Rajaram had always been categorical in his rejection of Aryan and Dravidian as races. In an article written for the Organiser, the Sangh magazine, he made this point very clear:
The term Dravida refers simply to a geographical region whereas Arya is a cultural term. Just as the nineteenth century scholars confused race and language in their misuse of the word Arya the same people confused geography, language and culture in the case of the word Dravida. The Aryan-Dravidian divide is essentially a political fraud, the result of colonial-missionary mischief.
One should recognize the multi-dimensional context of Dr Rajaram’s statement above.
When colonial scholars like Mortimer Wheeler propounded the classical Aryan invasion model with Indra massacring natives in Mohenjadaro etc., the work was taken down to the general public through various channels - academic, text-books, popular political narratives, etc.
In Tamil Nadu, for example, an entire political movement anchored itself on these depictions. C NAnnadurai liberally borrowed from the Nazi depiction of Jews and combined them with imagery of Aryan massacre of natives and produced a political narrative filled with racial hatred.
However, when this picture of invading Aryans and even the construct of Aryans as a race itself were falsified by archaeology there was no attempt made to take these facts to the general political and cultural discourse. People like Dr N S Rajaram took it upon themselves to do such work.
Whatever be the errors in their endevaours, the mistakes of scholars like N S Rajaram definitely were far better than the sins of racist hatred propagated by the advocates of Aryan invasion race theorists in the public domain and the silence over such distortion by the establishment academia.
As years rolled by, even Dr Elst, his one-time strong supporter, started moving away from the way Rajaram made attacks on certain Western Indologists. Elst thinks that Rajaram saw racism where there is none – as in the case of his attack on Witzel’s 2012 book on world mythology.
But given the kind of unethical attacks made on Dr Rajaram by Witzel and his group. which ruined to a large extent a possibility of a healthy debate in the field of Indology resulting in what Indologist Edwin Bryant would call ‘Indological McCarthyism’, it is no wonder that Rajaram became that bitter.
The following ancient Indian chronology as detailed by Dr N S Rajaram, is taken from Klaus Klostermaier (1998).
4500 BCE: Mandhatri's victory over the Drohyus, alluded to in the Puranas.
4000 BCE: Rigveda (excepting books 1 and 10)
3700 BCE: Battle of Ten Kings (referred to in the Rigveda) Beginning of Puranic dynastic lists: Agastya, the messenger of Vedic religion in the Dravida country. Vasistha, his younger brother, author of Vedic works. Rama and Ramayana.
3600 BCE: Yajur-, Sama-, Atharvaveda: Completion of Vedic Canon.
3100 BCE: Age of Krishna and Vyasa. Mahabharata War. Early Mahabharata.
3000 BCE: Shatapathabrahmana, Shulvasutras, Yajnavalkyasutra, Panini, author of the Ashtadhyayi, Yaska, author of the Nirukta.
2900 BCE: Rise of the civilisations of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Indus Sarasvati.
2200 BCE: Beginning of large-scale drought: decline of Harappa.
2000 BCE: End of Vedic age.
1900 BCE: Saraswati completely dried out: end of Harappa
In hindsight, some of the statements Dr Rajaram made on ancient Indian history seem to have been validated by later research. For example, Dr Rajaram in his chronology of ancient India speaks of a 'beginning of large-scale drought’ around 2200 BCE, which led ultimately to the collapse of Harappan civilization around 1700 BCE.
Now consider this paper A long arid interlude in the Indian summer monsoon during ∼4,350 to 3,450 cal. yr BP contemporaneous to displacement of the Indus valley civilization, published in Quaternary International (Vol.482, 2018), which speaks about a similar 'trend toward deteriorating climate, culminating in a pronounced, long cold and arid phase from∼4350 to 3450 cal. yr BP in the region'!
That such a man of in-depth insight and intelligence was not only denied a platform to debate and discuss his ideas in public but was so badly maligned by sections of academia with a vengeance and by a dominant section of Indian media shall forever remain a blot on the history of Indian journalism.
Dr Rajaram also concentrated on population genetics and renewable energies technology. In 2013, he had pointed out that India obtaining self-sufficiency in both food and milk was because of the ‘grassroots movements out of reach of the Planning Commission’ like AMUL.
But the Planning Commission in India was to him ‘stuck in the 1960s Soviet-era mindset.’ And solar power plants have to become ‘decentralized and not centralized’ he had pointed out, which went against the basic values of the Planning Commission. Then he had added:
For best results, solar should be combined with hydroelectric and other sources. … Solar-hydro combination in particular holds much promise. Hydro reservoirs cover large areas which can be covered by solar panels. … One of the major attractions of solar is the low technical skills needed in installing a solar plant and the time horizon for projects. An engineer and a handful of workers and technicians can install a solar plant in a matter of weeks. … The technology is ready-- India receives nearly 30 percent more sunlight than the U.S. or southern Europe. What are needed are political will and vision.
Dr N S Rajaram was a visionary and a pioneer. If today the Hindutva side is developing an overall narrative that is vibrant and healthy it is because many pioneers had taken the brave initiative and suffered the blows as the ‘Empire struck back’.
Dr N S Rajaram was definitely one of the brave pioneers of the 1990s and he also took the blows – inhuman and unethical. It is our duty to remember his contribution as a great pioneer path-finder, warts and all.
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