If I said the names, Ramses the Second, Socrates, Cleopatra, Julius Ceasar, and so on, most of you would not only know who they are but be able to write a paragraph about them. After all, you learned about them in school. If I said the name, Chandragupta Maurya, Vardhamana Mahavira, Ashoka, Samudra Gupta, I am guessing that few of you would be able to tell me who they were or much about them.
Nevertheless, the second group of names is just as important historically as the first group of names. However, those of us in the west have never heard or learned about them because they are from India. Yet, they built vast empires which rivaled the might of the Egyptians, Persians or Babylonians. They controlled armies which repelled the attacks of Alexander the Great and the Huns, who despite easily conquering the west were no match for the might of the East. They built works of art and philosophical systems just as impressive as anything Socrates or Michelangelo ever achieved.
As a westerner myself, I had never heard of any of the history of India either and had certainly never learned about India in school. I first began to learn some of the glorious history of India while reading the book “Autobiography of a Yogi
”. In the later chapters of the book, the author returns back home to India and, along with his secretary, tours all of the important historical sites. Throughout the travels, the secretary writes about the history of some of the sites he is visiting, such as mosques built by Ashoka and the great sculptures of Hoysala Temples. I was amazed listening to the discourse to know that I had never heard of any of these things.
History was always my best and favorite subject in school. I listened intently in my history classes but none of the history of India had ever been discussed in any of my classes. India was always a side note, a country with wonderful spices that everyone wanted to trade with. They would tell you all about the history of the Europeans as they tried to reach India or, in the case of Alexander the Great, invade India. But, they never told you anything about the history of India, itself.
Intrigued by what I had learned in Autobiography of a Yogi, I picked up a book called “The History of Nations: India
” and began to read about some of the history of India. I was just stunned by the depth of a history as old and mysterious as the Egyptians and Mesopotamians. The great cities of Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, Lothal, Malwan, and others dating back as early as 4,000 BC (containing mysterious scripts never deciphered) are the remains of an ancient civilization that was larger than the entire continent of Europe and which dwarfed the Mesopotamian and Egyptian empires. Indian history is filled with other great empires and dynasties, such as the Mauryan and Gupta, and it is filled with the harsh oppressions of Muslims and British conquerors. And the history of India since Gandhi only adds to the saga. All these things are part of a fascinating and rich history that so few in the west know or understand.
Fortunately, much of the ignorance of far eastern history is beginning to fade away. My sister is a high school history teacher and she tells me that the history of India and China is beginning to become a standard part of the high school history curriculum as interest in the history of the East is beginning to grow. Still, for people who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s like I did, this history is something that is missing from their education.
Still, I have to admit that my interest and curiosity have certainly been inflamed by a desire to learn more about the history of this ancient civilization. Do you feel that western education is too quick to ignore the history and ideas of the East? How do you feel about the growing interest in Eastern cultures?