Acharya Jadunath Sarkar: The Brilliant Flower whose Fragrance Knows no Death

Acharya Jadunath Sarkar: The Brilliant Flower whose Fragrance Knows no Death

At the zenith of Bharatavarsha’s Modern Renaissance, scholarship of the highest degree was not only actively sought after but was passionately nurtured and passed on to successive generations in keeping with the true traditions of the Indian learning heritage. In this period, the genius of Sanatana civilization and culture gave birth to formidable trailblazers by the dozen as we have seen in an earlier essay. Of these, Acharya Jadunath Sarkar was nulli secundus in the realm of pioneering and fundamental scholarship in history. For the better part of his life, Jadunath Sarkar was a household name not just as a scholar of history but as a fearless cultural icon. E. Sreedharan, the history scholar, called Jadunath Sarkar as “the greatest Indian historian of his time [whose works] have established a tradition of honest and scholarly historiography.” But E. Sreedharan belongs to our own time. It is said that the best recognition of one’s work comes from paeans showered by contemporary luminaries. And so it was with Jadunath Sarkar. His eminent contemporary and one with whom he had a lifelong correspondence and close association was Dr. Govind Sakharam Sardesai who said the following:

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. [Emphasis added]

Truer words were never spoken. It is precisely these qualities that led Acharya Jadunath Sarkar to almost singlehandedly change the direction of writing history in India. Jadunath Sarkar elevated it to a fine art form and became its pioneer.


But before we move ahead, here’s a quick overview of Jadunath Sarkar’s eventful life spread over 88 years, and his stunning accomplishments.

  • Born in 1870 in Karachmaria village, now in Bangladesh
  • Distinguished himself as a brilliant student right from his school days.
  • Received the First rank in MA English from Calcutta University
  • Received the prestigious Premchand-Roychand Scholarship
  • Became the Honorary member of the Royal Asiatic Society, London in 1923
  • Was appointed the Vice Chancellor of the Calcutta University in 1926
  • Taught Modern Indian History at the Benares Hindu University between 1917-19
  • Received the title of Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) and knighthood in 1929
  • The first Indian historian to gain honorary membership in the American Historical Association

For all his fame as a historian, Jadunath Sarkar started out as a lecturer and professor who taught English literature for a long time and then taught history.

Jadunath Sarkar: The Man Was the Method

In order to understand Acharya Jadunath Sarkar’s “view” of history, one must understand Jadunath Sarkar the person. For this proud son of Bengal, history was not merely an academic subject or discipline. Nor was it merely informed by patriotism, nor was it rooted in his love for scholarship. It was a sacred calling. Indeed, Jadunath Sarkar’s devotion to historical research was rooted in the eternal values of Sanatana Dharma, deeply embedded in him. It was rooted in his personal character marked by a high degree of integrity and an uncompromising attitude towards truth. It was a pious pursuit akin to Tapasya. Jadunath Sarkar said this in so many words: that a true historian should be an ascetic. In recent times, Prof Dipesh Chakrabarty has produced a fine work on Jadunath Sarkar titled The Calling of History. Describing this emphasis on imbibing an ascetic outlook, Prof Chakrabarty writes that to Jadunath Sarkar, it was essential for  

a certain cultivation of self-denying ethics in the personhood of the historian, a practice of a sense of ascesis, was therefore essential, for without that, the historian could not receive the truths the facts told…a way of preparing oneself for a truth that was beyond partisan interests. A self-denying quality he willingly imposed on himself…It was an inextricable part of his historical method; the man was the method.


Historians (of Jadunath Sarkar’s time) who criticized Sarkar’s emphasis on “character” never stopped to ask why someone of Sarkar’s erudition, intelligence and sense of engagement with the politics of his time would be so obsessed with the role of character in political history. [Emphasis added]

Jadunath Sarkar had a near-obsessive zeal for a quest of history rooted in these values; his was a spiritual pursuit of truth in history. Which is entirely consistent with the ancient Indian ethos of history as a value and not merely a collection of names and dates and places and events. When we also recall the fact that Jadunath Sarkar worked at a time when historical research had not yet been formally introduced as a subject in our universities, we go mute with admiration at the kind of pioneering labour he (and Dr. Sardesai) undertook. It is the fruits of his labour that makes us take a million things for granted today. Indeed, Jadunath Sarkar was one of the first historians of India who devoted a great part of his life to answering these fundamental questions:

  • What is history?
  • How does one determine sources of history?
  • What is the relationship between history and truth?
  • How to use logic, reasoning, and sound argumentation to accurately interpret the facts of history?
  • And so on and on

Equally, Jadunath Sarkar’s capacity for hard work was truly limitless. This alone can form the subject of an independent essay so we’ll leave it at that for now. Here’s an example of how he approached history writing. We’ll consider a random battle fought sometime in the past. Sarkar would approach it as follows:

  • Where did this battle actually take place?
  • Which village, which town, which city? Because there were and there exist many villages and towns with the same name.
  • What was the size of the battlefield?
  • How many hours did the army march?
  • What was the kind of ammunition, weapons etc used? In what quantity? Where were they procured from?
  • Sarkar would personally travel to these places to get a feel of the entire terrain. He used maps as an aide and guide.
  • He would consult all extant material related to the event—texts, records, coins, inscriptions, oral histories, legends, genealogy etc—making copious notes along the way.
  • Then he would begin to write.

Long story short, this was the kind of backbreaking industry that enabled Jadunath Sarkar to near-completely recreate the entire past, and write panoramic histories down to the last level of detail.

If this is not devotion and Tapasya, we don’t know what else to call it.

Authoritative Volumes

Jadunath Sarkar’s works are notable not merely for the level of detail but for their singular quality of being authoritative. But the more astonishing fact is that he didn’t write “single” (i.e. independent) volumes but he authored multiple volumes on the same subject. Here’s a short list:

  • The History of Aurangzib – Five volumes plus five more independent works on and about Aurangzeb.
  • The Fall of Mughal Empire – Four volumes
  • History of Bengal – Two volumes
  • Two volumes on Shivaji

Apart from these, Sarkar wrote the following works:

  • Economics of British India
  • Chaitanya’s Pilgrimages and Teachings
  • Nadir Shah in India
  • India through the Ages
  • Military History of India

These books are apart from the hundreds of essays, papers, and monographs that he contributed to various learned journals and magazines in both English and Bengali.

So seminal was his work and so impeccable was his research that Sarkar’s volumes became the most definitive sources for anybody wishing to study the Mughal period. Indeed, that other Acharya, R.C. Majumdar pays rich tributes to his predecessor. Or, in the words of the late British history scholar, J F Richards, Jadunath Sarkar  “set the narrative frame for the late Mughal period virtually single-handed.”

The Crime and Downfall of Jadunath Sarkar

Acharya Jadunath Sarkar towered over the entire discipline of history and historical research for over two decades, marshalling facts from primary sources, producing definitive histories and demolishing shoddy and mediocre scholarship by his contemporaries. He also made a lot of enemies who, unable to rebut his arguments, embarked on a vicious plot to bring him down personally. A viler endeavor of academic gangsterism is yet to be found when one recalls the role played by what’s known as the Aligarh School of history. To this mix was added some historians from Allahabad. Prominent names include Muhammad Habib (Irfan Habib’s father) and Shafaat Ahmad Khan. All of this with just the sole aim of destroying Jadunath Sarkar’s credibility and reputation as a titan of historical scholarship.

Jadunath Sarkar’s crime? He wrote the blunt truth about Muslim rule in India bluntly. Here are three samples:

1. Meaning of Jihad is “to exert in the Path of God :” “Islamic theology, therefore, tells the true believer that his highest duly is to make exertion (jihad) in the path of God by waging war against infidel lands (dar-ul-harb) till they become a part of the realm of Islam (dar-ul-Islam). After conquest, the entire infidel population becomes theoretically reduced to the status of slaves of the conquering army (Muslims). The men taken with arms are to be slain or sold into slavery and their wives and children induced to servitude. (The History of Aurangzib. Vol. 3, pp. 163-164)

“The murder of infidels (even if they are innocent) is counted a merit in a Muslim…He has only to slay a certain class of his fellow-beings (non-Muslims) or plunder their lands and wealth and this act is itself would raise his (Muslim’s) soul to Heaven. A religion where followers are taught to regard robbery and murder as a religious duty, is incompatible with the progress of mankind or with the peace of the world. (Ibid)

when a class of men is publicly depressed and harassed (as under Muslim rule)… it merely contents itself with dragging on an animal existence. The Hindus could not be expected to produce the utmost of what they were capable. (A Short History of Aurangzib. p 153)

But more infuriatingly, Jadunath Sarkar also wrote about the courageous, valorous magnificence of Shivaji. Here is a sample:

Shivaji proved, by his example, that the Hindu race could build a nation, found a State, defeat its enemies; they could conduct their own defence; they could protect and promote literature and art, commerce and industry; they could maintain navies and ocean going fleets of their own, and conduct naval battles on equal terms with foreigners. He taught the modern Hindus to rise to the full stature of their growth. He demonstrated that the tree of Hinduism was not dead, and that it could put forth new leaves and branches and once again rise up its head to the skies. (Shivaji and His Times. p. 406)

And so, the selfsame project of academic gangsterism that began in the mid-1930s was infused with enormous muscle under the Nehruvian secular establishment. By 1942-43, Acharya Jadunath Sarkar was unceremoniously removed from the very institution he had helped set up and build: the Indian Historical Records Commission. Guess who was one of the “ordinary members” of the IHRC in 1942? “Habib of Aligarh.”

But this was only the beginning.

With sustained effort spread over two decades the said academic gangsters attacked him systematically like a pack of jackals does a lion. For example, the scurvy Irfan Habib who wrote The Agrarian System of Mughal India (1958)does not even mention Jadunath Sarkar who had for the first time dug out rare and hard-to-find primary sources related to this period. Habib’s other contemporaries gleefully joined in this destructive project with Jihadist glee. Names like Satish Chandra, Nurul Hasan…the “eminent historians” completed the Caesaresque backstabbing. By the 1970s, Jadunath Sarkar’s body of work was near-totally banished from the academia. No history student wishing to get a degree dared mention let alone cite Jadunath Sarkar except in disparaging terms.

But a worse fate would follow Jadunath Sarkar after his death. In 1973, Indira Gandhi’s education minister, the Islamic bigot, Nurul Hasan coaxed her to set up something called The Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in the very home of Acharya Jadunath Sarkar. It’s best to read Prof Dipesh Chakabarty’s experience directly, in his own words:

Even though we inhabited his house, Jadunath Sarkar was but a faint whiff of memory in the Marxist…air I breathed at the Centre…All the objects of his house had been removed…This act of wiping memory clean would have reminded him of what he once said to his old student, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy…”My dear Bidhan, you can remove the statues but can you remove the pages from the history of India?” [Emphasis added]

More than sixty years later, the answer, as we all know, is an emphatic no. The Nurul Hasans and Irfan Habibs of the world have today become living fossils that neither have antique nor scientific value while Acharya Jadunath Sarkar remains an eternal source of inspiration, dedication, hard work and an extraordinary role model for the lifelong pursuit of a noble ideal.

yatha vrikshasya sampushpitasya duradgandho vatyevam punyasya |
karmano duradgandho vati yathasidharam karte’vahitamavakrame ||
yadyuve yuve hava vihvayishyami kartam |
patishyamityevamamritadatmanam jugupset || (Mahanarayana Upanishad 11.1)

Just as the fragrance emanating from the flowers of a tree reaches far and wide even to people who haven’t seen the tree, so do the virtues and good deeds done for the welfare of the world by wise people and sages spread everywhere.

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