02 May Hinduism – 7: The Wall of Amnesia
In this episode we were scheduled to move into the period of the British encounter with India. But there is nothing inevitable about schedules. We take a step back because we have found another vantage point from which to observe the path and the past that we have already traversed.
This step back comes courtesy of Ian Almond who had no white friends till he was sixteen and, growing up amongst South Asians, answered only to the name of badam. Sharmila Sen, who writes about him, picks up on the phenomenon of collective memory and reminds us what an odd thing it can be: “We can remember a collective past that never existed and bring nations, religions, and cultures into existence. We can also suffer from collective amnesia and bring ourselves to the brink of destruction.”
Ian Almond has written a book (Two Faiths, One Banner) “to reverse one particularly dangerous strain of collective amnesia that has infected the world today. It is this collective amnesia that leads people to see Islam as deeply non-Western and a threat to the Christian West…. He shows us how Muslims and Christians, far from having an unrelentingly antagonistic history, have often fought on the same side, against other Muslims and Christians, during defining moments of European history.”
Why is this important? Because, as Sharmila Sen warns: “It is not easy to stop forgetting. Amnesia is a wall. It partitions the past from the present. Muslim from Christian. Us from Them. You from Me.”
And why is this relevant? Because what is true of Islam and Christianity could also very well be true of Islam and Hinduism, couldn’t it? There are things we could have forgotten, allowing the wall of amnesia to partition the past from the present, Muslim from Hindu, Us from Them, You from Me. We could have forgotten so that now we are convinced the past was comprised of two armies, Muslims and Hindus, arrayed against each other, driven by religious ideology, and bent upon doing in the other to death.
We have no Ian Almond to help us here but just a quick trip to Wikipedia should open a chink in that wall of amnesia. On a whim, I googled “Man Singh” and here are all the things I learnt:
Raja Shri Man Singh Ji Saheb (Man Singh I) (May 9, 1540- July 6,1614) was the Kacchwaha Rajah Saheb of Amber, a state later known as Jaipur. He was a trusted general of the Mughal emperor Akbar, who included him among the Navratnas, or the nine gems of the royal court. However, he was a devotee of Shri Krishna, and not an adherent of Akbar’s religion, Din-i-Ilahi.
Before proceeding any further, I looked up exactly who were the Nauratans of Akbar:
Abul Fazl (historian); Faizi (poet and tutor); Miyan Tansen (musician); Raja Birbal (poet and bon vivant); Raja Todar Mal (finance minister); Raja Man Singh (military commander); Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana (poet and protector); Fakir Aziao Din (advisor); Mullah do Piaza (advisor).
With finance under Raja Todar Mal and the military under Raja Man Singh, it already becomes hard to imagine the past as armies of Muslims and Hindus arrayed against each other.
But let us go back to Raja Man Singh:
Raja Bharmal, the first Rajput ruler to marry his daughter to a Mughal, was Man Singh I’s grandfather…. Raja Man Singh was the guardian of Khusrau, the eldest son of Jehangir, and Akbar called him Farzand (son).
Kunwar Man Singh led the Mughal army in the well-known battle of Haldighati fought in 1576 between theMughal Empire and Maharana Pratap.
In the Battle of Haldighati, despite exaggerated figures, it is estimated that Rana Pratap had 3,000 horsemen, some elephants and the same number of Bhil warriors under Rao Poonja or Rana Poonja. A small artillery unit was also with him under Hakim Khan Sur. The force was divided into five wings. Advance wing was under Hakim Khan Sur, Bhim Singh Dodiya, and Ramdas Rathore. The right wing was under Bhamashah and Ramshah Tanwar. The left wing was under Jhala Man Singh. Rana Pratap was in the centre. Behind him was Rao Poonja with his Bhil warriors.
The Mughal army had 10,000 horsemen, some elephants and infantry. Among the horsemen 4,000 were Kachwaha Rajput warriors. One thousand other Hindu warriors and rest were Uzbeks, Turks, Kazzakhs, Saiyads and other Muslims. This force divided into five wings. There were two advance wings. The first was under Sayyad Hashim Barah, Jagganath Kachwaha and Asaf Ali Khan. The second advance troop was under Madho Singh Kachwaha. Behind this was Man Singh. To his right was Mulla Kazikhan Badkhsi and to left were Sayyads of Barah.
This is an account of one of the critical battles of the times and we have two forces against each other but it is not Us versus Them. Both forces are comprised of Muslims and Rajputs – leaders and generals from different religions mixing easily with each other and trusting each other with their fates and lives.
It would be very difficult to characterize these conflicts as wars of religion unless there is some comfort we wish to derive from our collective forgetfulness; or unless there is some advantage from hiding behind the wall of amnesia.
There is surely a flip side to this phenomenon that Wikipedia does not mention. Just as the contenders for power, the challenged and the challengers, were multi-religious coalitions, one can imagine that the marginalized and forgotten, the wretched of the earth, were also multi-religious in their composition.
Whatever was going on, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, had little to do with two religious armies – Us and Them – arrayed against each another. We do our selves and our fellow citizens a disservice by such a simple re-imagining of our past.