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rashtra=desha=nation-India ? - right or wrong?

suryaz - Sat, 03 Dec 2005 12:24:45 +0530

I found this on the risa list. It is by BVK Shastry

what do you think?


Date: Thu, 1 Dec 2005 18:18:10 -0500
From: BVK Sastry
Reply-to: RISA Academic Discussion List
Subject: [RISA-L] CA Text debate- AIT theory- Inaccurate translation of soruce works in Sanskrit as the root of the problem

(At the outset I request you not to premeditate or color the post based on
my name/institutional affiliation).

The debates related to CA text books on the issues of Hinduism from
the opposite camps have deep rooted differences in perceptions about the
language (=Sanskrit), religion (vedic religion) and history (= sacred
history, story and mythology) of Hindu traditions. The translations and
misapprehensions have played havoc in complicating this understanding. I
submit the following for a deliberation in this matter. My argument is to
point out that the knee jerk reaction about the 'CA text books issue' needs
a clearer and open debate before dumping the issues and trading charges on
either camp. I place on record that I had the opportunity to listen in
person to the presentations of some of the persons at AAR 2005,Philadelphia,
raising concerns on the CA text books issue.

The question framed for deliberation is: Where from the 'Hindutva' Hindu
nation concept come? Does the Sanskrit word 'Bharata Varsha/ Bharata
Rashtra' used in the traditional source documents stand for the 'Indian
nationality'? Or to present it differently, is the translation-
understanding of modern concept of 'nation' matching with the classical/
traditional word 'rashtra / desha/ Bharata varsha'?

My argument is to point out that the understanding derived on the basis of
translation 'Rashtra = Desha= Nation' is inaccurate and is at the root of
misrepresenting Hindu traditions in the name of AIT theory. The secondary
build ups based on this inaccurate translation of source references (and
several such inaccurate translations, claiming to be 'academic research')
are at the root of the validation of AIT theory debate. In short, AIT theory
suffers from a serious hermeneutic defect and methodological linguistic

AIT theory proponents have used the source documents of Vedas and made their
preferential constructions based on historicity and linguistics. The
representations/ translations/ secondary build ups are made in the modern
language, without caring to look at the accuracy of communication of terms
and concepts of technical terms in the source language. The multiple build
up's made on these lines in the last two hundred years are at the root of
many academic arguments related to AIT theory. Now let me take one issue and
analyze. The word taken for analysis is 'Rashtra' / 'Desha' generally
translated as 'nation' in the dictionaries.

'Rashtra' is a vedic Sanskrit word used circa 3000 BCE, just to accede a
historic date for debate. This word has multiple connotations. In the
religious ceremony/blessing, it denotes any land which is ruled by the ruler
of that specific period and place. The boundaries are not definitive here.
The same word 'Rashtra' in Kautilya's Artha shastra (the technical
discipline of societal administration; circa 250 BCE) has a different
technical meaning. It is much more than a specific piece of land. The two
meanings- vedic domain meaning and artha-shastra technical meaning have
variance in communication and concept. In any case, both do not match with
the current period understanding-usage as 'nationality'. In the modern
usage, 'nationality' has a specific meaning and is closely associated with
the definition of 'citizenship' on the basis of a birth (primarily)'. The
overtones when associated with religion are many, from the dimension of
fundamentalism to evangelical movements.

The words 'Rashtra', Desha, Bharata varsha' are listed in the Amarakosha
(Sanskrit dictionary, circa period 500CE). The translationof these words are
provided in the dictionaries as follows:

Rashtra = a country or a realm, a wheel, a house [1927 translation of
Lewis Rice ] realm, empire, kingdom [1807 translation of H.T.colebrooke]

Bharata varsha = India [ 1927 translation of Lewis Rice ] India [1807
translation of H.T.colebrooke]

(Note: Take note of the years, which are pre-independence periods, in which
the translation was made. At this point, there could have been NO clue to
the nationality of India or Pakistan.Much less of 'Hindutva' debate! On the
contrary, the following is provided as the derivation of the word
-QUOTE Begin--
The Cambridge student and Muslim nationalist Choudhary Rahmat Ali coined
this name. He devised the word and first published it on 28 January 1933 in
the pamphlet "Now or Never". He made the name an acronym of the different
states/homelands/regions, which broke down into: P=Punjab, A=Afghania (Ali's
preferred name for the North West Frontier Province), K=Kashmir, S=Sindh and
the suffix -stan from BalochiSTAN, thus forming "Pakstan". An "i"-sound
later intruded to ease pronunciation, producing "Pakistan". Rahmat Ali later
expanded upon this in his 1947 book Pakistan: the Fatherland of the Pak
Nation. In that book he explains the acronym as follows: P=Punjab,
A=Afghania, K=Kashmir, I=Iran, S=Sindh, T=Turkharistan (roughly the modern
central Asian states), A=Afghanistan and N=BalochistaN. Another shade of
meaning is added with the Persian word Pak, which means "pure"; the full
name therefore meaning "land of the pure". Use of the name gradually became
widespread during the campaign for the setting up of a Muslim state in what
was then British India. Note too the Persian suffix -stan meaning "land".)

-QUOTE End --
Now read the following understanding about the concept of 'Nation' and
nationality' which emerged in the English language usage and take note of
the time period, the change in the shades of meaning and current usages.
-QUOTE Begin -- For publications of this name, see also
Nation (disambiguation): One of the most influential doctrines in history
is that all humans are divided into groups called nations. It is an ethical
and philosophical doctrine in itself, and is the starting point for the
ideology of nationalism. The nationals (the members of the "nation") are
distinguished by a common identity, and almost always by a common origin, in
the sense of ancestry, parentage or descent. The national identity refers
both to the distinguishing features of the group, and to the individual's
sense of belonging to it. A very wide range of criteria is used, with very
different application. Small differences in pronunciation may be enough to
categorise someone as a member of another nation. On the other hand, two
people may be separated by difference in personalities, belief systems,
geographical locations, time and even spoken language, yet regard themselves
and be seen by others, as members of the same nation. Nationals are
considered to share certain traits and norms of behaviour, certain duties
toward other members, and certain responsibilities for the actions of the
members of the same nation. Nations extend across generations, and include
the dead as full members. More vaguely, they are assumed to include future
generations. No-one fixes a timespan, but a nation is typically several
centuries old. Past events are evaluated in this context, for instance by
referring to "our soldiers" in conflicts which took place hundreds of years
ago. The term nation is often used synonymously with ethnic group (sometimes
"ethnos"), but although ethnicity is now one of the most important aspects
of cultural or social identity for the members of most nations, people with
the same ethnic origin may live in different nation-states and be treated as
members of separate nations for that reason. National identity is often
disputed, down to the level of the individual. A state which explicitly
identifies as the homeland of a particular nation is a nation-state, and
most modern states fall into this category, although there may be violent
disputes about their legitimacy. In common usage, terms such as nations,
country, land and state often appear as near-synonyms, i.e., for a territory
under a single sovereign government, or the inhabitants of such a territory,
or the government itself; in other words, a de jure or de facto state. In a
more strict sense, however, terms such as nation, ethnos, and peoples
denominate a group of human beings, in contrast to country which denominates
a territory, whereas state expresses a legitimised administrative and
decision-making institution. Confusingly, the terms national and
international are used as technical terms applying to states, see country.]

Origins: The origins of nations are disputed, and these disputes form a
major issue in the theory of nationalism. There are some biological theories
of its origin, which see humans as territorial animals and the nation as a
territory in this sense. Most theorists reject this as simplistic, and treat
nations as a relatively late human social grouping. The most widely quoted
theories place their origin in the late 18th and 19th century, although this
dating is very disputed. Certainly the identification with a "nation" was
promoted by early romantic nationalism at that time, usually in opposition
to multi-ethnic (and autocratic) empires.
The Avishai Margalit in The Ethics of Memory (2002), discusses the defining
role of memory in shaping nations: "A nation," he says acerbically, "has
famously been defined as a society that nourishes a common delusion about
its ancestry and shares a common hatred for its neighbors. Thus, the bond of
caring in a nation hinges on false memory (delusion) and hatred of those who
do not belong."
Etymology: The first recorded use of the word "nation" was in 968, when
Liutprand, bishop of Cremona, while confronting the Byzantine emperor on
behalf of his patron Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, boldly declared in his
report, "The Land": I answered, "which you say belongs to your empire
belongs, as the nationality and language of the people proves, to the
kingdom of Italy." (emphasis added). The term derives from Latin natio and
originally described the colleagues in a college or students, above all at
the University of Paris, who were all born within a pays, spoke the same
language and expected to be ruled by their own familiar law. In 1383 and
1384, while studying theology at Paris, Jean Gerson was twice elected
procurator for the French nation (i.e. the French-born Francophone students
at the University). The Paris division of students into nations was adopted
at the University of Prague, where from its opening in 1349 the studium
generale was divided among Bohemian, Bavarian, Saxon and various Polish
Modern understanding: Since the 19th century, it is considered the norm that
a nation coincides with a sovereign state, called a nation-state. That norm
itself derives from the ideology of nationalism, which asserts that each
nation deserves its own state. Before the 19th century, it is difficult to
find examples that fit the modern idea of a nation-state. That does not mean
that there is agreement on the number of nations, and their equivalence with
a nation-state. Very few nations and nation-states have an undisputed
territory and borders. There are many self-government movements, such as
those in Belgium, the United Kingdom and Spain. There are nations which
describe themselves as stateless nations, such as those of the Kurds and
Assyrians. Claimed national territory may be partitioned, as in the Republic
of Ireland and Northern Ireland. There are also examples of national
identity without a corresponding state, or claim to a state. England is a
nation in the United Kingdom, but unlike the other four component nations
(Northern Ireland, Cornwall, Scotland and Wales) there has, until recently,
been little sign of aspiration to self-government (see Campaign for an
English Parliament). The term "state-nation" is sometimes used, for nations
where the common identity derives from shared citizenship of a state. It
implies that the state was formed first, and that the sense of national
identity developed later, or in parallel. The Netherlands and France are
often quoted as examples. However, both countries also have a strong ethnic
identity and cultural identity, reflected in widespread attitudes to
immigrants. If the nation was defined only by citizenship, then naturalised
citizens would be accepted as equal members of the nation, and that is not
the case. In most countries citizenship is sharply distinguished from
nationality. Nation-states vary in their attitude to naturalisation and
citizenship. In the United States, the only legal restriction on naturalised
citizens is, that they may not hold the office of President, and the only
act required of new citizens is an Oath of Allegiance. Many other countries
have language and cultural knowledge tests, but they may be intended
primarily as a barrier to immigration. Almost all nations are associated
with a specific territory, the national homeland. Some live in a historical
diaspora, that is, mainly outside the national homeland. The term diaspora
now refers mainly to dispersed economic migrants and their descendants. The
Roma, who are considered in some parts of Europe to be a distinct nation,
are a diaspora without a clearly identified homeland. Where territory is
disputed between nations, the claims may be based on which nation lived
there first - the nation is considered to include past members. That is
mainly the case in areas of historical European settlement (1500-1950). The
term "First Nations" is used by groups which share an aboriginal culture,
and seek official recognition or autonomy. The term nation is widely used,
by extension or metaphor, to describe any group promoting some common
interest or common identity, see Red Sox Nation and Queer Nation.
-- End of quote--
The debate built around AIT is centered around the concept of 'nationality',
migration, race, language, historicity' - for all of which the root word
used in the source language of Sanskrit is 'Rashtra /Desha'. The inaccuracy
of translation of this key word need to be debated first before furthering
the discussions on AIT theory, which relies on this understanding for
There are more technical words, like Jai, mata, kula, varna, deva, yajna
which have suffered serious inaccuracies in translations. The inaccurate
translations of the source works is used by the supporters of AIT theory in
different planks and platforms, concealing the root problem. Any one who is
familiar with the Hindu traditions, teachings and history would see how such
imposing of the western language-history-religion models of interpretation
of native traditions have caused a distortion in the presentation of a world
religion and culture.
In my understanding there is a tremendous confusion built around such
inaccurate translations of technical words in source works and academic
theorizing built around it. The issues involved are many: Inaccuracy of
translation from source language of Sanskrit to practical teaching language
of English; Inaccuracies of understanding and extrapolating the words beyond
their sensible dictionary meaning; Ignoring the importance of the historic
time lines of the dictionary and extrapolation of meaning unjustly. And to
this, you can add the ego dimensions of scholarship. These do not bring any
glory or respect to the academic model of debate or understanding.

In short, if this post helps to point the direction and need for debating
the key prerequisites in the study of Hindu/Vedic traditions in their
'appropriate frame' and 'right boxes' with 'right tools, there would not be
any delay in commencing fair dialogues.


BVK Sastry