Jadunath Sarkar as a World-Class Scholar and Original Historian

In the fifth episode of this series, G.S. Sardesai paints an extensive portrait showcasing the extraordinary breadth and originality of Jadunath Sarkar's scholarship in history
Jadunath Sarkar as a World-Class Scholar and Original Historian

Read the Previous Parts in this Series

Jadunath Sarkar as a World-Class Scholar and Original Historian
Jadunath Sarkar as I Know Him: A Heartfelt Portrait of the Great Acharya by his Close Friend, G.S. Sardesai
Jadunath Sarkar as a World-Class Scholar and Original Historian
Journeys with Knowledge: G.S. Sardesai's Notes from Travels with Jadunath Sarkar
Jadunath Sarkar as a World-Class Scholar and Original Historian
Jadunath Sarkar's Attachment to Sanskrit Literature and his Encyclopaedic Memory
Jadunath Sarkar as a World-Class Scholar and Original Historian
Jadunath Sarkar as an Exemplary Student and how he Won the Daunting Premchand Roychand Scholarship
Jadunath Sarkar as a World-Class Scholar and Original Historian
Nine Years of Penance: How Jadunath Sarkar Wrote "India of Aurangzib"

Jadunath Sarkar as a Scholar and Historian

ALL OF JADUNATH’S LATER LITERARY performance is the legitimate and logical expansion of the Premchand Roychand thesis on India of Aurangzib: Its Statistics, Topography and Roads (1901). From this slender start, his genius like the mighty Ganges furrowed through the vast expanse of the history of the Mughal Empire to its historic end in the year 1803.

But the Mughal Empire has proved too small to contain all the energy and learning of Jadunath. The dry bed of the history of Medieval Bengal as well as the tumultuous mountain stream of Maratha history, has been equally benefited by the outflow of Jadunath’s genius as a historian. As a soldier fighting the battle of life, age seems to have as little effect on his energy and optimism. His very constitution demands work, more work, though not even his enemies would say that he ever cared for fame and popularity or for making piles of money as an author.

It is no use making a catalogue of his writings in English and Bengali apart from his classics, namely the History of Aurangzib, Shivaji, and the Fall of the Mughal Empire. Whatever he has cared to write will remain evergreen and fresh, because his pen moves like the delicate brush of the court-artists of the Mughal Empire. He concentrates his best effort on his English style.

Jadunath remarks very often that what taxes his brain most are style and presentation, in which he has attained perfection almost by assiduous efforts added to his natural gifts for observation and narration. Once he told me a long story of Sir William Howard Russell, the famous correspondent of the London Times, of whom I had never heard before. He was sent to Crimea to report on the Russian War, later on to India to report on the thrilling events of the Mutiny, and the last time with the Prince of Wales in 1874. Russell was a master of style and observation, and his reports were graphic and brilliant, well-balanced and true to the minutest detail. So, it seems that Russell had a considerable influence on the style of Jadunath, who excels in describing the march of armies, progress of battles, strategy of generals and tedium of sieges. He is never tired of writing, revising, re-writing until in the end he produces a polished composition with a striking effect always edifying and expressive of life.

Ramananda Chatterji and Jadunath Sarkar became friends in 1902. Ramananda had just then started his Bengali monthly Prabasi and pressed Jadunath to contribute historical matter for that periodical. A little later, Chatterji conceived the plan of starting an English magazine dealing with current politics and historical research. The result was the birth of the Modern Review in January 1907, the very first issue containing a historical paper from Jadunath. Since that time, he has regularly contributed useful articles serving the cause of historical research. In course of time, the accumulated stock of Jadunath’s stray writings became so vast and came into demand so widely that he had to publish some of his past papers for ready reference in book form and these he published in his Studies in Mughal India (1920) and House of Shivaji (1943).

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As soon as his History of Aurangzib was completed (in 1925), he was led into its natural continuation, the expansion of the Maratha power under the Peshwas. The special need for this new undertaking arose from his willingness to edit the studies of the late Mr. William Irvine entitled The Later Mughals. Irvine left the work incomplete at his death with the year 1737. Jadunath issued Irvine’s chapters in two well-arranged volumes, adding three chapters of his own to the original work, thus bringing the story to the year 1739. This publication of the Later Mughals has been highly appreciated in the scholarly world.

Thus was Jadunath led into a close study of the whole Maratha period having to deal with the exploration of the Peshwa Dafter at Poona, the Gulgale Dafter of Kotah, the Parasnis papers of Mahadaji Sindhia and later on, the Poona Residency Correspondence series undertaken by the Bombay Government. In order to give a proper shape to all these diffused historical studies, Jadunath conceived the grand plan of writing a separate work on the fall of the Mughal Empire on the model of Gibbon’s monumental history.

Jadunath Sarkar as a World-Class Scholar and Original Historian
Making of a National Treasure: How the History and Culture of the Indian People was Written

Of this fresh series, he gradually published four volumes of importance describing the Mughal-Maratha politics of the eighteenth century, that is from the death of Aurangzib to the British control over the last Emperor Shah Alam (1707-1803). These four volumes bring together in a clear outline the bewildering maze of India’s eighteenth-century history with remarkable success in unravelling the various threads. The advent of the British power on the Indian scene and its rapid expansion have been well clarified in Jadunath’s writings.

Jadunath Sarkar as a World-Class Scholar and Original Historian
Bahadur Shah Zafar: The Last Mughal who was also the Last Great Traitor

In all his writings one easily notices his own mark of originality and extensive reading. He often refreshes the subject by adding apt quotations and appropriate illustrations from world history and literature. I would give only two small illustrations to show what I mean. On page 142 of his Shivaji and his Times (4th ed.) where Shivaji at his visit to the Emperor asks, “Is this the Jaswant whose back my soldiers have seen?” In a footnote, a famous interview of a similar incident is quoted between Wellington and Louis XVIII of France. Wellington retorted to Louis’s apologies, “Your Highness need not worry, it is by their backs that I have generally known your generals.” Similarly, on page 203 of the same book, Jadunath compares Jijabai to Queen Gautami Satakarni, who prided herself in her son’s glory. Such illustrations are certainly enlivening and will be found appropriately thrown in all his writings.

Although Jadunath has never gone abroad, he is no less conversant with the world movements of thought and life. He has been a constant reader of the Times Literary Supplement and before it of the Athenaeum for half a century. This is enough to indicate how a renowned specialist can manage to keep himself always abreast of his times in his knowledge of current affairs, new discoveries in science, latest noteworthy contributions to History, Economics and Political Science and informative reviews of books on these subjects.

In short, Jadunath as a historian is not an accident, not a fortunate child of opportunities, but the consummation of a life of preparation, planning, hard industry and ascetic devotion to a great mission.

To be concluded in the next part

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