Friday, January 30, 2009

Aitihya - As it was said

Aitihya explores the history and tradition of Southern Asia and its parallel cultures, contrasting the traditional and mythic views (aitihya) with contemporary history, discovering correlations lying in the depths of the colorful and liberally embellished legends.

The battle of Kurukshetra, fought between Aryan tribes somewhere around 1000 BCE, is told to have led to the destruction of nearly 4,000,000 troops in 18 days — using early Iron Age weaponry.

The purpose of Aitihya is not to insist on definitive or absolute positions, even if I do find some conclusions rather compelling. Rather, the writings here are meant to spark inspiration for further research by offering novel angles and less known leads — my part in the collaborative effort to advance the human sphere of knowledge. The readers better versed in ancient India in particular are invited to contribute their critique and share their related notes.

Aitihya the tradition, on the other hand, is often very definitive. The word aitihya itself is derived from iti-ha, "thus indeed" or "according to tradition", much akin both in spirit and meaning to ipse dixit, "He said it himself", a primarily faith-based appeal to traditional authority. Itihasa, in turn, is a word used to specifically describe the old epic histories.

As we aren't about to delve into epistemics and theology as much as we are into history and legends, the primary tradition spoken of is the lore finding its dawn with Rig-veda and the ancient Aryans, and evolving into Mahabharata, Puranas and other elaborate epics. Epics that contain narrations so fantastic they cannot be literally true, but nevertheless contain enough to let us approximate a fairly good concept of their world and position in the greater scheme of cultural evolution.

Illustration of the ancient Jain concept of the universe, Jambudvipa and mount Meru, the pillar of the universe, in the centre. (Image: Carlos Cruañas)

The Puranic mythology narrates a wonderful scenario of an ancient, highly advanced culture with emperors conquering all directions, a Greater India narrated as virtually the entire length and breadth of the earth. Analysis of regions described in the epics reveal that the known world of the Aryans did not reach much beyond Himalayas in the north, Persia in the west, and Myanmar in the east. Contemporary archeological and linguistic research further point to a civilization considerably less ancient and magnificent.

Aside exploring the Vedic and Puranic ages, the main focus owing to their abundant literary production, Indian stone-age and the subsequent Indus Valley civilization are firm on the writing map, as are parallel cultures across the world with their respective ancient societies and pantheons. Comparative cultural and religious evolution reveal a great number of patterns and help us approach the actual underlying reasons of the said developments.

It is my hope that these writings will contribute to the demystification of ancient India, enabling us to see it for what it was in reality, nothing less and nothing more. While the myths are certainly a treat to study with their extravagant embellishments, as long as the events remain in a world so removed from us by mystification, so long will our ability to learn of the ancients' ways and wisdoms be hampered.