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Rethinking History Education


The vandalism incident

While on a vis­it to Hampi (Kar­nata­ka) in Jan­u­ary this year, four youths from Mad­hya Pradesh and Bihar van­dalised* a por­tion of the Vish­nu Tem­ple at Hos­pet and post­ed a video of their act on Insta­gram. When the video went viral on social media and trig­gered out­rage, the ASI (Archae­l­og­i­cal Sur­vey of India) lodged a com­plaint and the police inves­ti­gat­ed and arrest­ed the youths. The youths were brought to court and plead­ed guilty, offer­ing to pay a fine of Rs 70,000 each and help in restora­tion of the van­dalised site. The youths claimed that they had no idea of the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of the place and had done this just for excite­ment. After pay­ing the fine, the youth were tak­en to the spot where they re-erect­ed the pil­lars they had top­pled, weigh­ing tonnes, in the pres­ence of ASI offi­cials, the Hampi police inspec­tor and oth­ers.

* van­dal­ism — delib­er­ate destruc­tion of prop­er­ty

“Vish­nu” tem­ple at Hos­pet, orig­i­nal­ly ded­i­cat­ed to Thiru­ma­gai Alvar

There are many tem­ples ded­i­cat­ed to Vish­nu Bha­ga­van in and around Hampi. This par­tic­u­lar tem­ple that was van­dal­ized is a large gran­ite struc­ture. Although the tem­ple is called the Vish­nu Tem­ple, it was orig­i­nal­ly ded­i­cat­ed to Thiru­ma­gai Alvar, the last of the 12 Alvar saints. The 12 Alvars who were bhak­tas of Vish­nu, togeth­er with the 63 Naya­nars who were bhak­tas of Shi­va, are among the most impor­tant saints from Tamil Nadu who revived the Bhak­ti move­ment in India. The Bhak­ti move­ment orig­i­nat­ed in 8th cen­tu­ry in Tamil Nadu and Ker­ala and spread north­wards. The Alvars inspired peo­ple to tread the path of devo­tion­al wor­ship of Vish­nu and study of iti­hasas like the Ramayana and Mahab­hara­ta.

The inscrip­tions on the wall reveals that this tem­ple was built by Avu­bi­la­ra­ju in 1554.

Hampi

The Hampi mon­u­ments, built dur­ing the Vijayana­gara empire in the 14th cen­tu­ry, span over 10,000-odd acres. The group of 1600 mon­u­ments is a UNESCO world her­itage site. Such inci­dents of delib­er­ate destruc­tion of our sci­en­tif­ic and cul­tur­al her­itage, clear­ly and direct­ly point to the lack of right his­to­ry edu­ca­tion — his­to­ry that is taught with­out any emo­tion­al con­nec­tion to our land, our ances­tors and our cul­ture.

History of Hampi

Hampi, the cap­i­tal of the grand Vijayana­gara empire sits on the banks of the Tungab­hadra riv­er. Tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge and cul­ture flour­ished under the Vijayana­gara rulers in the 14th cen­tu­ry. The archi­tec­ture at Hampi reflects pro­found knowl­edge of inner and out­er sci­ences. We all study his­to­ry as a bor­ing bunch of dis­con­nect­ed facts and dates, not as a real nar­ra­tive, a sto­ry of our own ances­tors, their way of liv­ing, the knowl­edge they pos­sessed and the times of Dhar­ma and Adhar­ma. As an illus­tra­tion, let us look close­ly at some aspects of the Viru­pak­sha tem­ple, the old­est shrine at Hampi.

The Virupaksha temple — an outstanding blend of mathematics and beauty

The Viru­pak­sha tem­ple, ded­i­cat­ed to Shi­va, has an unin­ter­rupt­ed his­to­ry from 7th cen­tu­ry. Shi­va as Viru­pak­sha is the con­sort of the God­dess Pam­pade­vi who is asso­ci­at­ed with the Tungab­hadra riv­er. The Viru­pak­sha- Pam­pade­vi sanc­tu­ary exist­ed well before the Vijayana­gara cap­i­tal was locat­ed here. What start­ed as a small shrine grew into a large tem­ple com­plex under the Vijayana­gara rulers.

This tem­ple is an out­stand­ing exam­ple of how Indi­ans com­bined math­e­mat­ics and aes­thet­ic beau­ty. This requires pre­cise scal­ing and pro­por­tions — observe the sev­en pat­terns repeat­ing in pro­por­tion­ate sizes on every floor of the gop­u­ram.

The unbroken tradition of worship of Shiva-Parvati

In 1565, the Sul­tanate army attacked the Hin­du Vijayana­gara king­dom and com­plete­ly destroyed Vijayana­gara city and its numer­ous Hin­du tem­ples and icons, includ­ing Viru­pak­sha, over a peri­od of sev­er­al months. But, the wor­ship of Viru­pak­sha-Pam­pa did not end with the destruc­tion of the city. Wor­ship has con­tin­ued unbro­ken for years till today, which is clear evi­dence that in our land Bhara­ta, there are Divine pow­ers that pre­serve these spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tions in spite of destruc­tive inva­sions.


Krish­nade­varaya, one of the most pow­er­ful of all Hin­du kings, who ruled from 1509 — 1529, was a patron of this tem­ple. In fact, when the Mughal Emper­or Babur was eval­u­at­ing the kings, Krish­nade­varaya was rat­ed the most pow­er­ful and had the most exten­sive empire in the sub­con­ti­nent.

The destruction of Hampi — a tale of betrayal

Aliya Rama Raya was the last of the Vijayana­gara kings. In Jan­u­ary 1565, the Sul­tanates to the north of Vijayana­gara unit­ed and attacked Aliya Rama Raya’s army. The bat­tle took place at Taliko­ta and Rama Raya was defeat­ed. But this does not make sense. How could the Sul­tanates defeat one of the most pow­er­ful Hin­du dynas­ties?

Bat­tle of Taliko­ta — betray­al of two gen­er­als with­in Rama Raya’s army

Actu­al­ly, the Vijayana­gara army was win­ning the bat­tle, but sud­den­ly two gen­er­als of the Vijayana­gara army switched sides and turned their loy­al­ty to the unit­ed Sul­tanates. Rama Raya found him­self sur­prised when the two gen­er­als in his army turned against him. They cap­tured Rama Raya and behead­ed him on the spot. The behead­ing of Rama Raya cre­at­ed con­fu­sion and hav­oc in the still loy­al por­tions of the Vijayana­gara army, which were then com­plete­ly rout­ed.

After the defeat, the Sul­tanates’ army destroyed Hampi. What was once called by Per­sian and Por­tugese traders “one of the most beau­ti­ful of cities of met­ro­pol­i­tan pro­por­tions”, was pil­laged, loot­ed and burnt for 6 months after the war, and aban­doned as ruins, which is now des­ig­nat­ed as a World Her­itage Site by UNESCO.

Robert Sewell, in his book The For­got­ten Empire, con­cludes thus – “With fire and sword, with crow­bars and axes, they car­ried on day after day their work of destruc­tion. Nev­er per­haps in the his­to­ry of the world has such hav­oc been wrought, and wrought so sud­den­ly, on so splen­did a city; teem­ing with a wealthy and indus­tri­ous pop­u­la­tion in the full plen­i­tude of pros­per­i­ty one day, and on the next seized, pil­laged, and reduced to ruins, amid scenes of sav­age mas­sacre and hor­rors beg­gar­ing descrip­tion.”

Why are such true sto­ries of not known to the vast major­i­ty of Indi­ans? It is because his­to­ry is taught with empha­sis on mem­o­riza­tion of mere facts, not on the actu­al nar­ra­tive and how our lives are con­nect­ed to our ances­tors’ lives. With cur­rent his­to­ry, this is what is retained in our minds at the end of the day — “The bat­tle of Taliko­ta hap­pened in 1565 between Rama Raya and the Sul­tanates. Rama Raya was defeat­ed. The Vijayana­gara empire came to an end.” It does not evoke any emo­tion at how a sig­nif­i­cant place like Hampi was destroyed.

Reimaging the Way History is Taught

While there is lot of focus on STEM edu­ca­tion all over the world, there is very lit­tle focus on art and his­to­ry edu­ca­tion. Very few take up His­to­ry and Social Sci­ence as a sub­ject of choice in high­er edu­ca­tion. One of the key rea­sons, is the way his­to­ry is taught in schools. While the issue of false nar­ra­tives being taught as his­to­ry is a dif­fer­ent top­ic, the ped­a­gog­i­cal aspects is what we would like to high­light here.

Katha Yatras

A very pow­er­ful method to teach his­to­ry with an emo­tion­al con­nect is to actu­al­ly take the stu­dents on a her­itage tour to a tem­ple, sit down in com­fort and nar­rate the sto­ries that are con­nect­ed to the stha­la. The sto­ries depict­ed in tem­ples are not just recent his­to­ry but go all the way back to iti­hasas and puranas. One can find numer­ous sto­ries from the Ramayana and Mahab­hara­ta depict­ed in the pil­lars and walls of such his­toric sites. Nar­rat­ing the stha­la purana, geneal­o­gy of kings asso­ci­at­ed with the sites and describ­ing the archealog­i­cal won­ders can cre­ate a deep impres­sion in the mind of youth and chil­dren.

Facts and Right Emotion

Often his­to­ry is per­ceived as a dull bor­ing sub­ject with just facts. When his­to­ry is pre­sent­ed with emo­tions, very much like the Indi­an katha tra­di­tion or mod­ern sto­ry­telling, it can have a strong impact on the neur­al path­ways too. Neu­rocog­ni­tive sci­en­tists have cat­e­go­rized mem­o­ry based on var­i­ous func­tion­al­i­ties. Of these cat­e­gories, episod­ic and seman­tic mem­o­ries are rel­e­vant to this con­text. While seman­tic mem­o­ry deals with remem­ber­ing things based on facts, episod­ic mem­o­ry helps to remem­ber auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal events through feel­ing i.e emo­tions are attached to the mem­o­ry. Though sto­ry-telling is not exact­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal events of the sad­ha­ka, they present his­to­ry blend­ed with rasas (emo­tions) that assist bet­ter reten­tion and trans­for­ma­tion of the sad­ha­ka. Neu­ro­science says that those events that are record­ed in the episod­ic mem­o­ry trig­ger episod­ic learn­ing i.e a behav­ioral trans­for­ma­tion occur due to the event. Tul­v­ing has sem­i­nal­ly defined three key prop­er­ties of episod­ic mem­o­ry rec­ol­lec­tion. These are a sub­jec­tive sense of time (or men­tal time trav­el), con­nec­tion to the self, and auto­noet­ic con­scious­ness. Auto­noet­ic con­scious­ness refers to a spe­cial kind of con­scious­ness that accom­pa­nies the act of remem­ber­ing which enables an indi­vid­ual to be aware of the self in a sub­jec­tive time. Auto­noet­ic con­scious­ness involves process­es like men­tal time-trav­el, episod­ic future pro­jec­tion and think­ing. Offered in an immer­sive man­ner, his­to­ry com­bined with the right emo­tions can enable a bet­ter appre­ci­a­tion for mon­u­ments and places of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.



Creative use of modern technology

India is a vast coun­try and to trav­el to his­tor­i­cal sites takes time. Mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy can enhance our expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing of the true his­to­ry of our land. If phys­i­cal­ly under­tak­ing school her­itage yatras is not pos­si­ble due to lim­i­ta­tions, watch­ing record­ed videos of a tour of the place and the use of vir­tu­al real­i­ty gog­gles with record­ed audio visu­al con­tent can help.EdTech star­tups can lever­age tech­nol­o­gy to devel­op teach­ing aids for his­to­ry. Google VR Tour cre­ator helps peo­ple to cre­ate vir­tu­al tours of places.

Google expe­di­tions is a fan­tas­tic way of engag­ing chil­dren with tours of his­tor­i­cal places. Google Expe­di­tions also allows the inter­ac­tion of the teacher with the stu­dent by allow­ing for a teacher-led tour of the places.

Such tools pro­vide lots of scope for Indi­an entre­pre­neurs to cre­ate tours of places with­in the coun­try.

Chil­dren can also be encour­aged to cre­ate mini wikipedia type pages to share their knowl­edge with oth­er chil­dren.

Understanding of Indian Sciences

Indi­an stu­dents are cut-off from tra­di­tion­al Indi­an Sci­ences like Ayurve­da, Astron­o­my, Vas­tu and Yoga. Hence, there is very lit­tle under­stand­ing of how and why a tem­ple is cre­at­ed and con­se­crat­ed. With­out such under­stand­ing, most chil­dren tend to look at these sites as mere his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments and not as sym­bols of liv­ing tra­di­tions. Mak­ing chil­dren par­tic­i­pate in the tra­di­tion­al events of the tem­ple can help them devel­op attach­ment to the tem­ple. A par­tic­i­pa­to­ry approach is much more rel­e­vant to today’s youth and chil­dren than an observ­er approach.

His­to­ry, when taught as a nar­ra­tive con­nect­ing our per­son­al life with our ancestor’s lives, com­bin­ing emo­tions and sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge, changes one’s entire per­cep­tion of life and imme­di­ate­ly makes one feel con­nect­ed to one’s land, cul­ture and archi­tec­tur­al her­itage. Learn­ing his­to­ry the right way is cru­cial to rebuild the Indi­an iden­ti­ty.

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