Our lost heritage – I
Parvez Mahmood on what modern-day Pakistanis have lost in their efforts to distance themselves from their Subcontinental origins
by Parvez Mahmood May 17, 2019 in Features, Perspective 31
Modern depiction of the Battle of the Hydaspes, or the Jhelum
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Pakistan was created to allow Muslims to live as free citizens without the fear of being dominated by a resurgent, occasionally hostile, Hindu majority. However, not feeling secure even in independence, Pakistani people have driven themselves to a social and historical narrative that strives to align our genetic origins with our religious roots in the East. In pursuit of this goal, we have also shed our heritage; the very values and customs that defined a nation. Some of these trends to delink from the indigenous Indian society started a millennium ago in an atmosphere of insecurity due to frequent armed incursions from the Western passes. After independence, the Pakistani nation should have felt secure enough to display affinity with this land but then the religious zealots took us on a confounded and misleading trajectory.
At the outset, let it be clear that there is no illusion about religion being an important factor in the lives of people all over the world. Even in this age of relative atheism, “living together” and secularism in the liberal Western countries, where people have been estranged from religion, the church continues to hold a visibly important place in society. Irrespective of the level of affinity with religion, births, deaths and marriages are often solemnized as religious events in the church by a priest. Even under the communist regimes, where religion was officially abolished and legally suppressed for a hundred years, people continue to find solace in divine convictions.
Modern depiction of Chanakya
However, we in Pakistan have employed religion as a pivot to distance ourselves from our own land, culture, history and heritage. There has been little realization that in attempting to be what we are not and in rejecting what we are, we will be lost as a people. Being neither here nor there implies that we are nowhere. We have an apt proverb in Urdu for this situation that describes a creature as one half partridge and the other half a quail. That is our true description too.
In trying to move away from being Indians, we have induced ourselves to be Arabesque or Persianate. Now, of course, the Arabs, Persians and Turks are our closest social and religious kith and kin, our natural allies and we feel a natural affinity for them. A large section of our people carries their genes, as well as habits of dress, food, culture and surnames. However, we belong to the South Asian Subcontinent. We are neither Arabs, nor Turks, nor Persians. Even if we try to be one of them, we shall become unacceptable intruders and imposters. Try telling an Arab that in being a Syed, one is an Arab; or telling a Turk that one’s surname of Bokhari entitles one to be a Turk; or a Persian that being a Shirazi by name, one is Persian. Instead of acceptance, such a claim can only raise a mocking smirk!
For some reason, we in Pakistan today portray Chanakya as a villain and a demon whereas he was a realist and understood the complexities of governing a large empire populated with diverse nationalities
One staggering loss in this identity crisis has been a name that has been appropriated by our Eastern neighbour. We are children of the Indus. Most of the country and its nearly entire grain producing farmlands are drained by this river and its numerous large and small tributaries. There are three major geographical divisions of the Subcontinent. One of them is the Vindhya Hill ranges that separate North and South India. The second is the gentle hump separating the east-flowing Ganges and its tributaries and the West-flowing Indus and its tributaries – this distinguishes the modern nations of Pakistan and Bharat.
The Persians called the land Hindush, a Sanskrit equivalent of Sindhu, which was the historical local reference to the Indus River. Even the ancient Greeks referred to the Indians as Indoi, which translates as “The people of the Indus”. We, the people of Pakistan were therefore in error in simply relinquishing the name ‘India’ to our eastern neighbour. It is our name.
Carving of Lord Buddha from the region that is today Pakistan
The great Sanskrit poem Mahabharata tells us that Bharat, meaning the ‘Cherished’, was a descendant of the Lunar dynasty and was the ancestor of Kauravas and Pandavas, two antagonists of that epic battle. We are also told that he sacrificed horses on the banks of the Yamuna, the Saraswati and the Ganges, but none for the Indus. Bharat, therefore, is the proper religious, cultural and natural name of a country that reveres the Mahabharata and the Ganges.
That the people beyond the Indus were called Indoos or Hindus, who happened to be of a different religion, is a geographical allusion and not a religious one. Nevertheless, we the people of Pakistan, irrespective of their religion, are the true Indians; the inhabitants of the land of the Indus. Of course this cultural loss has now gained permanence as Bharat and India are the official names of our eastern neighbour but we need to be mindful of our cultural loss in losing our rightful alternate name.
Stone carving from ancient Taxila
The second loss is that of historical narrative. This is a great loss and has multiple dimensions. The Subcontinent was ruled by Sultans of Turkish and Persian origin. for seven hundred years, from the Ghaznavid raids in or about 1000 AD to Nader Shah’s invasion in 1739 AD. These ruling families, their fellow migrant noble compatriots and their chroniclers legitimately traced their history to their own lands of origin. Unfortunately, this trend, fuelled by the religious class, crept in the psyche of most of the Subcontinent’s Muslims. My paternal grandfather’s great grandfather converted to Islam. He was a migrant from Kashmir to Amritsar. My family had lived in the valley for centuries since the Aryan irruption from Central Asia. How do I shun or escape this history and at what point do I cut short my past and dishonestly develop factitious links to some prominent town or personality of the erstwhile Abbasid province of Khorasan? This is not to say that those who do so, believing that to be their factual lineage, are wrong but the question still stands: at what point in time does one start belonging to the land that has nourished one’s forefathers and delete the various prefixes and suffixes that indicate them to be progeny of intruders and raiders of this land?
When renouncing the history of our part of the land, we have become alienated from some of the sons of this soil who should have done us proud. The first of these is the dignified Raja Porus who was born in the Punjab and his kingdom extended over the Chaj Doab – the land falling between the rivers Jhelum and Chenab. His blood descendants are more likely to be living amongst us rather than across the border. We should claim him as one of our heroes. There is hardly any reason for repudiating his legacy from our national narratives especially when the famous battle of the Hydaspes, between the ancient Punjabi armies of Porus and Greek forces of Alexander the Great was fought in 326BC. That happened 900 years before Islam and 300 hundred years before Christianity came into being. We live on an ancient land that was a thriving concern much before these religions came into existence. We should be proud of that.
The Bakhshali manuscripts are ancient mathematical treatises discovered near modern-day Mardan, which is today in Pakistan Taxila – Takshashila – of the ancient world- was the centre of a great civilization. One of its greatest luminaries was Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, He was a philosopher, a political scientist and an economist. His Arthasastra is perahps the first ever treatise on politics, statecraft and economics, predating Machiavelli’s The Prince by 1,800 years. He mentored Chandragupta, the architect of the Mauryan Empire and served as his Chief Minister. He was in his 40s when Alexander traversed from north to south through the land that constitutes all four provinces of Pakistan. He helped in defeating and expelling the Greeks from Punjab to well across the Indus. He is perhaps the greatest Indian of the ancient world and he was born and raised in Taxila; on the northern slopes of Islamabad’s Margalla Hills.
For some reason, we in Pakistan today portray Chanakya as a villain and a demon whereas he was a realist and understood the complexities of governing a large empire populated with diverse nationalities. He was a great philosopher of political science and laid the foundations of this discipline of scholarship. His appearance in the sketches available on the internet casts him as a typical temple priest. They are images conceived by a Brahmanical mindset and may or may not bear any similarity to the historical Chanakya. However, that is immaterial. He, too, lived much before the advent of Islam or Christianity and Pakistanis should not hold a religious grudge against persons of pre-Islamic times. We should be proud that our land – in the neighbourhood of our capital city – gave birth to this sage. We could even establish a department in Taxila university in his name to teach political science and political economy, the subjects that he conceived.
The legacy of the Gandhara civilization is primarily our heritage and not necessarily that of the people of the Ganga-Yamuna or trans-Narmada regions
Among so many others, another local achievement of great significance that we have neglected to tell our children is the fact that the oldest mathematical manuscript in the world was found at Bakhshali, a village north-east of Mardan. The document, carbon dated to AD 224-383, contains the first recorded zero in history. The 70 leaves of birch bark contain mathematical rules, problems and their solutions in arithmetic, algebra and geometry, on topics of fractions, square roots, progressions and equations of linear and quadratic type. That is a lot of modern calculations. No wonder that India is acclaimed as the original home of numerals and mathematics! It flourished in the regions encompassing the Taxila civilization from where it spread eastwards to the rest of the Subcontinent and westwards to Persia and beyond.
The cultural and scientific achievements that are the legacy of the Gandhara civilization are primarily our heritage and not necessarily that of the people of the Ganga-Yamuna or trans-Narmada regions who now take the overwhelming amount of credit for these inventions.
The meeting of Alexander and Porus after their great battle on the banks of the Jhelum
It is actually the ancestors of modern-day Pakistanis who have given numerals and mathematics to the world. We should feel that pride and claim the honour.
The next part of this series will discuss our lost heritage in terms of festivals, names and religious figures.
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at email@example.com
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Raj 6 months ago
It is sad neglect of heritage, instead of owning it, the focus is on creating a new arabesque identity. The author forgot to mention Raja Dahir, who fought against savage hordes driven by religious zealotry.
J K Achuthan 6 months ago
Sir, Wonderful article that should make all Pakistanis proud that they are amongst the world’s oldest continuous civilisations. Conquests change borders throughout history. Similarly religion of a people also change due to dominant influences, and after four generations it become a settled fact. But language and culture do not change, and like DNA these are the hallmarks and identity of a people. Pakistan has all the attributes to become a prosperous nation if its resources are properly utilised, and it enjoys peaceful coexistence with its geographical neighbours.
Malang Jan 6 months ago
As a lover of history, one always enjoys articles by the author – this one is, as usual very well written and touches upon a subject that our establishment needs to note and attempt to rectify, although it may be too late – we have now had two generations of utterly confused Pakistanis who think that the country started with Mohammad bin Qasim and that our forefathers spoke Arabic! However, there is one aspect that I would like to take issue with the writer on, because I suspect that there is a bias; while he talks of Turks and Arabs and Persians, he is strangely silent about the Afghans, who played as big a role, if not a larger one, in shaping the history and culture of the Indus basin! Is my suspicion correct?
Asahabur Rahman 6 months ago
Thanks for your insightful article. I hope Pakistanis would accept the Harappan and pre-Muslim Hindu-Budhhist cultural heritage as their own legacy. I would like to point out that the all of today’s Punjab, KP, valley of Kabul and Kandhahar were included in the kingdoms (Rajya) mentioned in Mahabharata. Actually queen Gandhari, mother of one of the two warring clans Kauravas was from Kandhahar hence Gandhari, Another major character Madri came from Madra Desha, i.e., ancient Punjab. Many other characters came from Sindh and Punjab. Uddyan (Swat valley) was a famous Budhhist kingdom. The river Saraswati (now disappeared) was the easternmost stream that flew through Punjab and was holiest of all rivers during the Rigvedic age ( 1200-800 BC). Therefore the major characters and countries of Mahabharata and subsequent Hindu-Budhha period are truly Pakistanis and Pakistan. While taday’s the Punjabi Muslims proudly flaunt their Rajput, Dogra, Jaat, Andhra, Mewati lineage (Rao, Rathore, Bajwa, Dogar, Cheema and many more surnames carried from non-Muslim clans, they shouldn’t be averse to claim their Hindu identity.
Vasu 6 months ago
As an Indian, I feel good to read this article. I always thought that many of symbols that we Indians hold dear actually belongs more to the regions that are now Pakistan. A dispassionate understanding will diminish many a slight and injury held in the minds of people on both sides.
But, as a south Indian, I am truly worried. If this Jasbaat goes too far and Punjabis on both sides start doing bhalle-bhalle, we had it. Already the tiny-Punjabi population in India is sitting on our head, dominating all the cultural aspects. We can only imagine what happens if the much larger Punjabi group joins the party …
That aside, truly appreciate the writer for the courageous introspection.
Butroz Ghali 6 months ago
When a branch is cut off from the trunk, it withers and dies. Perhaps that natural truth has escaped the proponents of Islam in the sub-continent.
Dr. Rajesh Shukla 6 months ago
Dear Mr. Mahmood,
I really appreciate your article. Not very many Pakistanis are having courage to say this what you wrote. Our heritage is same wether we are from India or Pakistan. Our DNA is same. If we accept
This basic trouth, it will help in reducing tension between our counties.
Thanks again for nice write up.
Bhushan Thammineni 6 months ago
Parvez Mahmood writes so sensibly and his tone is always persuasive – it is great pleasure to read his articles. Persian and Assamese languages – show proclivity for H sound replacing S sound. Sapta in Sanskrit becomes Hapta in Persian – same analogy – Sindh becomes Hind in Persian ( and country name Hindustan) Greek turned Hind into Indus ( in Greek H sound mellows down to I sound- with noun suffix -us) – and the people inhabiting around that river – Indians.
ArchBishop Samineni Arulappa once noted “By birth I am an Indian, by culture a Hindu, and by faith, I am a Christian.” , it seems in Pakistan majority are unable to accept their cultural past – as explained by the author.
Kade 6 months ago
Thanks Gr.Capt.Parvez for beautiful am
n honest article
Ramesh Kadambi 6 months ago
It is pretty convenient to now come around, and claim heritage after your ancestors abandoned it. If your ancestors never abandoned their heritage, there would have never been a partition. This is a very duplicitous narrative. However, it is better late than never to realize who you are. Good luck searching for your identity.
Prafulla 6 months ago
Sheer brilliance in articulation of ones thoughts, is all i can say. You did better than most who do this as their day job.
Congratulations to your parents and teachers for raising a person like you. You have a divine gift, don’t lose it.
Ombrahma 6 months ago
Ancient Indians, not modern day Pakistanis, are the founders of Math, Algebra, Trigonometry, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, etc. There was no Pakistan then. Yes indeed. Pakistan are impoverished by foolishly suppressing their Indian Identity to align with Persians, Arabs and Turks, who abhor them. You Pakistanis are referred to as converts, not as Muslims.
Vikram Singh thakur 6 months ago
A Wonderful article , though a little long but what I find here is the solution to indo pak conflict ; to accept our past proudly .
Hindus in India is steadily accepting this truth and muslim is not ready to accept this .
Only a similar past can unite us and help us to grow
Vande matram ( hail our motherland; India Pakistan)
Vanaj 6 months ago
Laughable rubbish. THe reason Porus had his name was because he belonged to the Vedic Puru tribe which was a descendant of the Bharatas of the Rig Veda. The Indus Valley was extremely sparsely populated and the centre of Indic civilisation has always been the Gangetic plain after the Indus Sarasvati people migrated there after their decline.
You were never an important player in the subcontinent ever and are even more marginal today. ALl the great Empires and kingdoms have been in the Gangetic areas and even South India. You were just an unimportant backwater not worth fighting for and not even relevant enough to claim distinctness from the rest of Bharat. BTW Bharatavarsha included the entire subcontinent including Afghanistan South of the Hindu Kush
Dr. SInha 6 months ago
Very thoughtful and honest article. Even though this will not be taught in the schools in Pakistan, I hope more people will read and teach this to kids at home. Only honest teaching will make Pakistanis realize who their blood relatives are, regardless of the religion, and bring about love and long-lasting peace in the subcontinent. Pakistan, the sleeping giant, has to wake up and realize its true potential, just like India.
Ghoda 6 months ago
There were mainly Jains & Buddhists in the Indian subcontinent. Chandragupta Maurya embraced Jainism & renounced his empire at the age of 41 years. He vowed Sallekhana (fast unto death) at 43 & passed away peacefully in a cave atop a hillock near ‘Bahubali’ in Karnataka ! Is there any parallel to such behavior in world history ?
vijakumar 6 months ago
Excellent piece sir , Looking forward for next part of this series .
Prakash 6 months ago
Very thought provoking and an eye opener to modern Pakistanis and Indians
Who is to be blamed for Pakistan’s loss of great historical cultural and scientific legacy ?
Do we need to re write history of subcontinent ?
Will Pakistanis be able to have confidence of accepting their origin and great contributions by their equally great ancestors
Hundreds if questions .
What a great subject and interpretation
Authors should write more without fear and favours
U.T. Jamil 6 months ago
I am a Pakistani, my ancestors are from Kanpur which is in India. Does that mean that in this land of Indus – the true India as is claimed – the cultural values brought by millions of immigrants from the land of Mahabharth and the Ganges are irrelevant? In the author’s personal desire to claim Pakistan as the ‘real India’ he has alienated the millions of Muslim migrants whose roots and values come from what is known as India today and is still marketed as ‘the Other’ i.e. the land of the Mahabharath and Ganges. It does not even aim to consider the cultural values of Bangladesh i.e. West Pakistan which was a part of our country i.e. ‘the real India.’ In his noble attempt to challenge the erroneous Persio-Arab-Turkic narrative, the author is unable to overcome the simple fact that Pakistanis are a mix of cultures from all over the subcontinent and not limited to its current geographical limitations which are a product of politics and war, not a continuous cultural condition. By only claiming the current geographical boundaries of Pakistan as culturally relevant, the author has alienated the cultures brought by millions of immigrants to Pakistan and India. Our culture is that of the historical sub continent as a whole and cannot be divided into ‘the Indus’ and ‘The Ganges’.
Jogi 6 months ago
Muslims of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are in fact victims of Islamic aggression and are the descendants of Hindu and Buddhist women who were raped and enslaved by Arabs and Turks and forced to become Muslims. It is high time they revert back to their ancestor’s culture by adapting the Sanatana way of life and start living a civilized life. http://sanatanaparishad.blogspot.in/
Nvs praneeth 6 months ago
Half truths, gandhara civilization is not cut from rest of the Indian civilization (yes the name can be contested), even in mahabharat, the kauravas maternal side was from gandhara. Chanakya was not born in takshila but was thrown out from Nanda kingdom, so he went to takshashila, learned there, taught there and became a kingmaker and made another refugee of Nanda empire, Chandragupta Maurya as king, so margala hills are his karmbhumi (where he worked) not janmbhoomi (where he was born)
steve 6 months ago
What is the writer smoking and where can I get some?
Amin 6 months ago
Pakistanis in 1947 – We dont want to be Indians.
Pakistani in 2019 – We are real Indians
Ha Ha Ha
Lali 6 months ago
Such are the conditions of Islam, Captain. You can’t claim those glories. The Iranians themselves don’t talk about their great kings such as Shapur who help the Roman empire at bay or Ardeshir who defeated Attila the Hun while the Europeans make movie after movie about Greeks beating the Persians. Islam will not permit the talking about such glories
Maneesh 6 months ago
Waow! Very refreshing to see that someone on the other side of the border is thinking from his head. Great work Sir. May you keep it up.
T Raghavendra Rao 6 months ago
Kudos to the author of this article. Nations live on heritage, I traditions and history of their ancestors. Religion and borrowed culture diminishes the value of one’s own place in the long history of the subcontinent. In their anti India narrative, Pakistani establishment ignored the rich heritage of the land and also damaged the mindset of their youth by diluting the value of history and replacing it with a fictitious narrative. My congratulations to Mr Parvez Mohammad for depicting importance of heritage and history.
Suhasini Nandika 6 months ago
A very thoughtful article that needs deep introspection by each one of us whether we are today’s Indian or a Pakistani. We are all the loving progeny of a single mother Bharatmata. All glories to our ancestors and may their progeny cherish the rich and invaluable assets left behind for all of us. My sincere salutations to the writer. You are indeed the true son of Bharatmata.
Kulbhushan Madar 6 months ago
Notwithstanding the present alienation between India and Pakistan, we share a common heritage. Our achievements and failures are common.
One can’t claim that the mathematical and civilizational advances are to be divided amonst our two great nations. Aryabhatt, Charak, Chanakya etc etc are as much a heritage of Pakistan as that of India.
Deep inside, we are one people. Historically, people of our subcontinent have faught with each other and present times are no exception.
Awadhesh kumar 6 months ago
Sir you have written correct description of our history. Which mostly is seen covered with religious spectacles. Religion is personal Choice . It doesn’t give food clothes or land . We have to face the reality. If only 10 percent of our people start thinking like you it will be a great service to Indianness . Which we forget under the goggles of religion
Vivek 6 months ago
Dinesh Chandra 6 months ago
If Pakistanis accept this logical suggestion of the writer, they should also reconsider their having become Muslims only by force, not by choice. Islam today is being considered by the entire world as a violent religion that has no respect for human values and continues to live in the middle ages that used violence and brutal force to convert people under fear of death, decapitation and slavery . On an unbiased study of Hinduism, their original way of life, was and is the only post modern way of life that is being adopted by the majority of right thinking people around the world. Right thinking Pakistanis, including millions who migrated from the so called Bharat and their descendants, should also revert to their earlier way of life. While it is not feasible to suddenly change their official religion, what with the sword of death hanging above anyone thinking to abandon Islam, they can at least distance themselves from some such dictates that are repugnant to modern civilizational values and are being touted by terrorists in the name of Islam. Hope good sense prevails in the minds of some thinking minds in Pakistan. Logically, there must be many, like the bold writer of this article.