BEGINNING WITH THIS EPISODE, The Dharma Dispatch will publish a series on a topic that has largely fallen into obscurity in the annals of research into various aspects of ancient Indian civilization and culture. But it might be surprising to learn that research on this topic was begun in earnest more than a full century ago but was sadly abandoned after India attained political freedom.
As the title of this piece indicates, it is a brief journey into the exciting, enriching and sprawling world of business and corporate life in ancient India. Or, speaking in a broad sense, it is a short history of commercial activity in ancient India.
The subject is as vast as Bharatavarsha itself and is spread over several millennia beginning with the Vedic Era. In my limited explorations, it clearly has enough research potential to produce at least ten full volumes, and if that feat is accomplished, it will be nothing short of national service.
But before we actually begin examining the topic, it will be instructive to read what the iconic researcher, Sri Dharampal mentioned repeatedly. Its foundation was just two words: national reconstruction, something that sounds alien to the contemporary Indian ear…when I say “contemporary,” I include at least four generations of Indians since Independence.
Sri Dharampal noted with great regret that after Independence, our political leaders told our people:
The reason for this attitude of our political leadership at the dawn of independence was a deep sense of psychological colonization that they had imbibed under British rule. Sri Dharampal stands perhaps tallest among all the savants and luminaries who untiringly worked for all-round decolonization of the Indian mind and thereby the Indian society. He had chosen a deep and sustained study of how our society functioned and how our institutions operated for millennia until the British systematically dismantled the native mind. This is what Dharampal says:
More profoundly, he also writes:
Continuing further, he offers us a rather startling but actually, a common sense verdict about British rule when we think about it now.
Indeed, an honest study of the comprehensive history of India—especially, our institutional, social, and commercial aspects must begin in the pre-British era. Unfortunately, the exact opposite has occurred. Most Indian historians who studied these aspects of our past, especially our society, culture and commerce, took the British description of our past as the starting point, if not its premise. These historians perhaps subconsciously believed that the picture of our society that the colonial British scholars and European researchers gave was its true reflection.
The reality however, is the exact opposite. The picture of India that the British gave was not the picture of a Bharatavarsha at her prime but at the very pit of the nadir she had reached.
The chief culprit who propagated this false premise of India was James Mill in his The History of British India in three fat volumes. Here is a sample of his description of the Hindu society in a section explicitly titled, Of the Hindus:
If you start with this premise, it becomes a breeze to justify British colonial oppression of India, which is exactly what James Mill does:
Quite obviously, Mill’s History of India is a textual reflection of his putrid psyche. But his vile tomes became mandatory reading for every colonial British bureaucrat who wanted a stint in India. But as horrid as it was, the greater tragedy occurred after Independence. It might sound surprising but even today, significant portions of these third-rated, racist volumes have been retained in their essentials, and Mill’s diagnosis and conclusions about India are uncritically accepted as valid by our IAS class. Small wonder that even today we have IAS officers who nonchalantly walk into a wedding and disrupt it in a that puts goondas as to shame.
This rather longish preface sets the tone for the episodes that follow in this series.
To be continued
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