It is often said, perhaps not without justification, that Indians lack a sense of their own history. Around the world, historical monuments are carefully preserved. The Ban Ganga in Walkeshwar, Malabar Hills, poses problems for considering its age as a part of real history, much as other ancient historical sites in India do.
One reason is that often ancient historical sites in India are closely interwoven with time scales that are taken to be mythological. Consequently, acute difficulty is felt in taking their tales of origin as part of real history. The Red Fort in Delhi, for example, is preserved as a historical site, built in 1648, and is visited by practically every tourist to Delhi. Just a few miles from it languishes the Pandava Quila, which few visit, although it is said to be from the more ancient Mahabharata times.
Our children learn literally from the date of their birth, the CE/BCE Western calendar (numerically equivalent to the Anno Domini year-numbering system introduced by the 6th-century Christian monk Dionysius Exiguus,” as Wikipedia tells us). They do not learn formally the Hindu calendar in schools, which is based on Jyotish Sastra, in particular Surya Siddhanta. Our historical sites can be dated properly only using the Hindu calendar, according to which we live in the year 5118 of Kali yuga. The Mahabharata war is said to have ended just before the start of Kali yuga. That makes the fort of the Pandavas at least 5118 years old. Is that part of real history? For Westerners, and for most Indians, anything before 500 BCE (when apparently recorded Greek history started) is not considered as history anymore. It is mythology! If it is, the fact that a visibly ancient fort exists for real needs accounting. We can dismiss that history, refashion it from today’s limited perspective, or deliberate on how we can enhance our current perspective to understand our own ancient history from inside the tradition.
As per the Hindu calendar, Lord Rama and Lord Lakshmana ruled from Ayodhya (a still existing place) in Tretha Yuga, which started (0.864 + 1.728) or 2.592 million years ago! Could this be Ban Ganga’s real history?
The Ban Ganga tank, as per the local tradition, originates in a time period of the Hindu calendar that is even more ancient! As was written up in this newsletter before, the Ban Ganga, a pond of fresh water, came out of the Arrow of Lakshmana, and is taken to be the water of the holy river Ganges. As per the Hindu calendar, Lord Rama and Lord Lakshmana ruled from Ayodhya (a still existing place) in Tretha Yuga, which started (0.864 + 1.728) or 2.592 million years ago! Could this be Ban Ganga’s real history? Are there other ways than the ‘fossilized’ modern archelogy and anthropology to approach this issue?
Staggering as the above number is, the age of the earth is, even as per science, is some 4.5 Billion years. Compared to that, 2.592 million years is a small number, about 0.05%!! It is not clear why recorded, cultured human history of the modern kind should be taken to start around only 500 BCE, which is the time of the Greeks.
Another difficulty in taking the oral history of Ban Ganga seriously might arise from how the pond is said to have been formed. How can someone in Walkeshwar, Mumbai, pierce the earth with an arrow, and the Ganges, which is flowing hundreds of miles away, spring up here? Yet, for countless generations and eons perhaps, this story about the origin of the pond has survived intact! Unless that sense of Puranic history that has been very much a part of our national psyche is understood and preserved properly, we may lose entirely this entire oral, and along with it these ancient historical sites worthy of world attention eventually.
Our current notions of both time (two millenniums, instead of many yuga cycles) and causality (with respect to arrow producing Ban Ganga) pose a serious challenge to reconstructing Indian history on Puranic terms. But few of us might realize that profound problems at the foundations of science call for a revision to our current notions of time and causality. But that is a topic for another article!