The Forgotten Hindu History of Pakistan: An Introduction
Notes On Culture

The Forgotten Hindu History of Pakistan: An Introduction

Loss of physical geography is also a loss of cultural narrative memory.

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna

ईशावास्यं इदं सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् ।

तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्यस्विद्धनम् ॥

Here is the gist of this timeless sloka from the Ishavasya Upanishad : The whole world is the abode of Ishwara. When you realise this, the realisation will bring an attitude of renunciation towards attachment to worldly things. Therefore, the Veda says, do not covet the wealth of others.

In the present context, the first line of the sloka is relevant. In just sixteen alphabets, it reveals an eternal truth: it automatically means that everything automatically becomes sacred. Nothing is outside the ambit of divinity and everything falls in its purview because ईशावास्य has no boundaries.

This verse is also a quick and easy way to understand how the Sanatana tradition regards the physical geography of Bharatavarsha: as sacred.

There are hundreds of such verses in the Vedic and other sacred corpus but this is quite representative of the ideal of a sacred geography – we also have the Nadi Suktas in the Vedas… अम्बितमे देवितमे नदीतमे सरस्वती, etc where rivers are regarded as a mother nourishing her infant, as Devi, etc.

This ideal of a sacred geography becomes clearer when we contrast how other countries regard their geography. For example, Nazi Germany and Communist USSR saw their countries as the Fatherland. However, in common conception, which has held ground for the longest time, the term "Motherland" is probably the most familiar notion representing the physical geography of a people.

However, only Hindus regard Bharatavarsha as a Punyabhoomi, Pavitrabhoomi, Karmabhoomi, Dharma-kshetra, and so on. When we think about the meaning of these words, we find that they all have their roots in the same divine impulse and ideal embodied in ईशावास्यं इदं सर्वं, etc. For countless centuries, Hindus have continued to take extraordinary pride in their geography, the most visible, everyday proof of which are the countless Tirtha-Yatras that go on on a daily basis. I recall a verse attributed to an early medieval Sanskrit poet. Roughly it says:

Let me be born as a tree, shrub, plant, or worm or pebble, but let me be born in Bharatavarsha and nowhere else.

Hindus thus celebrate their land’s greatness and sanctity in slokas, Puranas, Dharmashastras, etc. Think about why the Harvard Professor Diana Eck named her book, India: A Sacred Geography.

One of the greatest celebrations of this sacred geography is a grand passage in the Matsya Purana named Mahasankalpa. This portion even today, is recited during the Kanyadanam ritual in weddings, indicating an extraordinary civilisational and cultural continuity unparalleled anywhere in the world. The Mahasankalpa is in many ways, a mini-encyclopedia, an atlas and an almanac all rolled into one. In the present context, the geographical details and lists that it gives about India is relevant. It lists the names of mountains, forests, rivers, islands, groves, kingdoms, pilgrimage spots, and great cities and towns.

अङ्ग वङ्ग कलिङ्ग कश्मीर कंभोज कामरूप केरल केकय कोसल मैथिल कुन्तल कुरङ्ग कुरवक सौवीर सौराष्ट्र मत्स्य मागध माळव मराळ सिंहल मलयाल चोल बङ्गाल पाञ्चाल साळ्व पुलीन्द्र कर्नाटक वराटक मराटक सिक्क सिन्ध पञ्जविका पावका पाम्ड्य द्रविड यवन शूरसेन घॊर्जर कुक्कुर पराशर गान्धार विदर्भ बर्बर बरमा भोज बाह्लीक कोङ्कण टेङ्कण चीणा हूण दशार्णादि षट् पञ्चाशद्देश ...

This is a list of about 50 Deshas in the Mahasankalpa. Here, the word Desha overall, can be considered as indicative of the Indian geography of the period. A similar but slightly different list is available in a work titled Sapta-panchashaddesha, also listing 56 countries.

Apart from such works, at a very broad level, a popular method for identifying our geography in the ancient and up to late medieval period was using the Fivefold Classification:

1. Madhya Desha = Middle or Centre

2. Udeecya Desha – Roughly, North of north west of the Sindhu River

3. Prachya Desha = East

4. Dakshinapatha = South

5. Aparanta = the Western borders

Generally speaking, even the ancient and early medieval Chinese adopted the same classification scheme. They called these divisions as the Five Indies. When we think about it even today, we remain amazed once again, at our incredible civilisational continuity…in this case, manifesting in geography. This fivefold classification has largely been retained even today. One can verify this by reading all those dense government gazetteers written in our respective mother tongues.

Geography and History

This geographic-cultural preface in a way provides the backdrop because history and geography are inseparable. Geography dictates and directs and shapes history. And history alters maps. Which is why geography is also memory. And loss of physical geography is also loss of memory...civilisational, cultural, traditional and most importantly, it is loss of narrative memory.

In that sense, the forgotten Hindu History of Pakistan, in one line, can be couched as a loss of the narrative memory of Bharatavarsha because we have almost permanently lost that substantial geography, and therefore substantial narrative memory. This is a subject actually enough to fill an entire volume. But to be clear, when we use the word "Pakistan," it also includes Afghanistan and Bangladesh. And when we say, "Hindu history," it also includes Jain, Buddhist, Sikh and all other offshoots of Sanatana Dharma. In sketching out this forgotten history, we can divide it into a few broad categories for the sake of convenience.

1. Civilisational and cultural

2. Sacred or religious

3. People in the sense of eminent personalities that emerged from this region.

4. Commercial or business centres

5. Educational

This categorisation obviously has lots of overlaps and intersect at various points and strictly speaking, cannot be looked at in isolation.

To be continued

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