How Romila Thapar Lied her Way to Historical Eminence

Romila Thapar
Dr Shankar Sharan analyzes the history of modern India, and quoting various important religious leaders of Islam, he proves that they have always spoken a language full of arrogance of power. This fact alone shows that they cannot be the victims as they portray themselves to be. He also shows how this arrogant approach will no longer work in the modern world.
Dr Shankar Sharan

Let us cast a critical glance at the Marxist historians overlooking their fame and eminence. For all their pretensions to academic scholarship, for all their use of high-sounding and technical phraseology, the Marxists typically addressed their writings to the general public. Therefore, a general and critical evaluation of the overall tenor and content of Marxist scholarship is both relevant and timely.

It is noteworthy that despite frequently commenting on religion – especially targeting what they call Brahminism, Indian Marxists have not produced a systematic study of any religion.

To be more specific, Marxist scholars never handled Sanatan Dharma as a subject for serious and thorough study. The once renowned work, ‘A Dictionary of Marxist Thought’ has a bibliography of Marxist studies on Hinduism, which is a pitiable exhibition of Marxist thought. It prominently includes the following : Nehru’s Autobiography, Romila Thapar’s ‘A History of India’, Rahula Sankrityayan’s novel, ‘From Volga to Ganga’, and EMS Namboodiripad’s ‘The National Question in Kerala’.

In the aforementioned ‘Dictionary’, whatever attempt is made to present a Marxist understanding of Hinduism is based on the basis of Romila Thapar’s ‘History of India’, Ram Sharan Sharma’s ‘Political Thoughts in Ancient India’ and DP Chattopadhyaya’s ‘Indian Atheism’.

Thus, true to their genre, the meaning of Hinduism has been explained with the help of such gems as the ‘exploitative character of Brahmins’, ‘atrocities on lower castes’ and ‘temples as a means to acquire position and wealth’. In this backdrop, let’s briefly examine the alleged scholarship of the biggest name of them all : The Eminent Historian, Romila Thapar.

The most glaring feature of all such Marxist ‘historians’ is their fundamental inability to understand or interpret Hinduism. Yet, this disability does not deter our Marxist historians from making inaccurate, irrelevant, wild and frequent comments on Hindu philosophy, thought and Spirituality.

In her 1969 article ‘Communalism’ and the writing of ‘Indian History’, Romila Thapar has made innumerable comments on religion, culture, literature, art, Spirituality etc., which no serious scholar can ever make.

Romila Thapar was just a young academic then. It is unlikely she had already studied the vast Indian history along with Hindu sastras and even a representative sample of the great body of Sanskrit literature. All her comments, therefore, were just wild comments and guess-work.

A real scholar first of all, knows the limit of his or her knowledge and, therefore, desists from making general comments on any subject. But Indian Marxist historians have always commented and spoken with authority without doing a serious study on any topic or in any field of knowledge.

In her foregoing article as well as in her other articles, books and speeches, Thapar has tried to convey that all the glory, fame and achievements of ancient India and Hinduism are exaggerated or false. According to her, all the good things in Hinduism exist in other religions as well, but the ugly and revolting aspects of Hinduism is seldom noticed.

Romila Thapar went to the extent of suggesting that there was nothing like Hinduism in India. If she had meant only the term ‘Hindu’, there was nothing wrong to an extent. However, her intent is suspect. It becomes clear when she does not recognize or even mention Sanatan Dharma, as if it were non-existent.

On the contrary, she has stated that ‘religious sects and groups in pre-Islamic India did not identify themselves as Hindus and as a unified religion’. It is obvious that she either confuses Dharma with religion or deliberately equates the two to deny the existence of Sanatan Dharma and Hindus as a very distinct community living according to it.

The word Dharma occurs in the oldest shastras, Scriptures and folklore of India. Nobody can claim that there was no religion in India two-three thousand years ago in the past. But just as Itihasa is not ‘history’ or Namaskara is not ‘good morning’, the Indian concept of ‘Dharma’ is not ‘religion.’

Serious scholars are aware that in Western languages, not only the word but even a concept equivalent to ‘Dharma’ does not exist. Rta, Leela and Karma are other such concepts non-existent in the Western lexicon or philosophies. ‘Religion’ simply cannot explain Dharma. That is why Christian missionaries and Muslim Tablighis call Hindus as a community ‘without religion’, to whom a faith or religion is yet to be given (which they consider is their job) ! Hinduism is indeed not a ‘religion’ or a confined creed like Islam or Christianity.

And Romila Thapar adopted the Christian missionary outlook about the non-existence of a ‘unified religion’ in India. Only this can explain her wild postulations about Hindu Dharma in what she prefers to call the ‘pre-Islamic’ period.

Why is there no reference to Sanatan Dharma in her writing ? Both the term and the system as a whole is so prominent in Indian thinking, treatises, folklore and tradition since time immemorial. Instead, there is repeated reference to some ‘Brahmin dharma’ or ‘Brahminism’ in the writings of the Marxist historians, which according to them was exploitative, cunning and full of class-selfishness.

Marxist historians simply forget what even Gautama Buddha had said so famously : ‘Esso Dhammo Sanantano’ meaning ‘this has been the Sanatan Dharma’. The word ‘Sanatan’ also means ‘that which always was and always will remain’.

Thus, even by Buddha’s words, there was a ‘Sanatan Dharma’ existing since ancient times in India, and this was his assertion made 2,500 years ago. It is, therefore, startling to see the Marxists dismiss all this summarily and insist that Hinduism is a creation of the last two centuries by foreigners at that. All Marxist scholars love this formulation, irrespective of their subject. Incidentally, a Marxist professor of any field of knowledge is also considered an authority on history and Hinduism.

Romila Thapar has repeatedly uttered several deprecations about Hindu culture, philosophy and tradition without quoting any source or giving references. For instance, she claims that ‘Vedic thought was not uniquely and in genesis Indian’.

In the same breath, she also says that ‘the culture represented in the Vedic literature was largely indigenous’.

Referring to ‘Aryan culture’ and the ‘Aryan way of life’, she wrote just this much : ‘On certain occasions the Aryans ate beef and drank alcohol’. In another place she asserted, ‘In ancient India beef was consumed for many centuries’. This is a clever by half assertion because Thapar and her Marxist colleagues have never even once mentioned whether the Aryans used to eat anything else apart from beef. They haven’t stated what general food items were included in the Aryan diet. If one goes by the umpteen repetitions of this theme by the Marxist school, it appears that the Aryans spent their whole life eating beef and drinking alcohol.

The repeated references to beef and liquor indicates the Marxist historians’ visceral hatred towards Hinduism. The references to ‘beef eating’ is only to deride Hinduism and not to improve our knowledge about ancient India.

The following utterances of Romila Thapar deserve serious consideration :

“The ‘Golden Age’ of the Guptas represents a series of paradoxes. It is described as a period of Hindu renaissance. (But) the main artistic achievements were Buddhist …”

“In spite of the emphasis on nonviolence as essential to the best Hindu tradition, the glorification of Samudragupta is largely based on his prowess as a military conqueror.”

“The same characteristics as are associated with Indian Spirituality can be found in many other ancient cultures … which sections of (ancient Indian) society were given to spiritual activities … ? Obviously only a small section.”

“… as for example the plays of Kalidasa, hardly points to the existence of much Spirituality in court circles.”

“(In Hindu tradition) the four aims of man are described as Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Of these only the last connotes pure Spirituality.”

“Some of the major events in the Indian tradition are associated with violence, a case in point being Bhagavad-Gita and the Mahabharata war.”

“Other reasons (for Muslim rulers destroying temples) can be found when one turns to the tradition of Hindu kings and enquires whether any of them were despoilers of temples and Idol-breakers.”

And so she goes on and on in this vein.

All the aforementioned rhetorical statements follow one after another in Thapar’s article. There is neither any reference quoted nor any event described. Any serious reader can fathom the understanding of the writer in matters relating to culture, non-violence, Spirituality, the Bhagavad-Gita or the Mahabharata.

Let alone the topic of Hindu Dharma, which is according to Thapar, ‘an ideology invented in the twentieth century’. It is crystal clear she has never studied or perceived such serious subjects as the Hindu concept of non-violence, spirituality, Bhagavad-Gita or the Mahabharata.

Yet she has made comments in a decisive manner as though no contrary views are even worth looking at. To regard non-violence and heroism on the battlefield as opposing phenomena is childish to say the least.

Further, why is Thapar so eager to reject claims, which no one ever put forward in the first place ? Who has suggested that in ancient India, a large number of people used to be involved in Spirituality ? Or that the courts of kings in ancient India were steeped deep in spiritual atmosphere ?

After making many such rhetorical comments in her article, Romila Thapar proposes to adopt apparently, the Marxist method in the study of history, though she has cleverly avoided naming it. However, her ‘method’ implies a search for ‘technological changes’, ‘economic structures’, ‘labour’, ‘distribution’, ‘produce’, ‘struggle between communities’ and ‘economic tension’.

According to her, it is only after searching for all these elements can the real history of ancient India be found. That is, the real history ‘free of all false Hindu glorification’, in her book. What is more, ‘it is only then that we shall understand not only the true nature of the impact of Islam in Indian history but in fact the true nature of all the forces that have gone into the creation of the Indian past’.

This last sentence of the article is rather amazing, as it has a definite conclusion which hardly corresponds with what has been stated in the entire article. It shows that her mind was actually more concerned with projecting a favourable image of the Muslim period of Indian history while writing about the ancient Hindu period. The ‘method’ she has chosen is to paint the Hindu period in black colours, by hook or crook, so that the Muslim period, that is ‘the impact of Islam’ becomes brighter or at least less ugly than what it was.

The entire article creates the impression that Romila Thapar wants to present – come what it may – all good Hindu traditions in a less than favourable light. Unfortunately, this tendency continued in her writings for the decades to come. She and her associate Marxist historians have tried to present all time-tested wisdom as found in the Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, etc., and acknowledged as Dharmic expositions, as myths.

Anything good, noble, appealing and attractive in the Hindu philosophical and literary corpus is labelled as purely imaginary. In other words, they have nothing to do with the reality of the times when this literature came into existence.

On the other hand, have these Marxist ‘historians’ or their Western counterparts ever labelled Abraham, Moses, Noah’s Ark and various descriptions in the Bible or Prophet Mohammad’s revelations as myths ? The unambiguous answer is a resounding ‘No’, because Romila Thapar and her ilk have a fundamental hatred against Hindu Dharma.

And hatred of Hindu Dharma is one of the definitions of Marxist history writing in India.

(Courtesy :, 4th March 2024)

It is noteworthy that despite frequently commenting on religion, Marxists have not produced a systematic study of any religion !

Anything good, noble, appealing and attractive in the Hindu philosophical and literary corpus is labelled as purely imaginary !