SriJoy wrote:Oral history works for culture, religion, etc. Not for history. This is because, history is a 'social endeavour', not a personal one. My life is quite literally, unaffected by whether i know of Ashoka/Virakamaditya or not.
"History" is overrated. In India we have itihasa (literally, "it happened here"). It is both a personal and a social endeavour, because dharmic civilization doesn't make this categorical distinction in a lot of ways that the normative restrictions of Western "civilization" compel it to. We aren't a history-centric culture in the sense of "history" that the West relies on to promulgate the authority of its institutions.
"Itihasa" affords the capacity for endless contextual reinterpretation of historical narrative without changing its essence... something the "West" has only discovered through postmodernism, which itself is a barely disguised appropriation from our own knowledge systems. Western conservatives are terrified of reinterpretation or "revisionism" as they call it, because they are neurotically obsessed with the idea that adhering absolutely to one single, unalterable, "authoritative" historical narrative is crucial to maintaining the very core of their identity.
We know better. Just as the polymerases that replicate genetic material allow themselves the making of "errors", and chromosomes themselves afford the capacity for recombination, all the while preserving the essential contours, attributes, and viability of that which is being reproduced... our mechanisms of transmitting knowledge (particularly via oral transmission) are designed to allow for the possible evolution of ideas in response to a changing temporal context. The West clings white-knuckled to the corpse of Abraham for its self definition. You walk hand in hand with your living father and mother, and some day your living son or daughter walk hand in hand with you; and always the eddies of temporary change coexist with the undercurrent of perennial continuity.
It scarcely matters that the Bhils, the Indonesians, the Andhras, the Manipuris, the Gujaratis all weave their folklore into local retellings of the Ramayana or Mahabharata, so that there is no authoritative, single, History-with-a-capital-H version of these epic narratives. We do not lean on our itihasa to define us; rather, we trust ourselves to preserve and enrich our identity by continuing to define and redefine our itihasa as times change.
Again, I'd recommend Rajiv Malhotra, Vamsee Juluri, S.N. Balagangadhara, and Sanjeev Sanyal for starters. I would also look at the Out of India thread at BRF (the current one and its previous avatar) for more discussion on this subject.
For that matter, I'd suggest taking any further discussion of Indian traditions to some other thread and leave this one for discussions focused on China.