Sunday, 31 July 2016

Book Review - "Volga se Ganga" by Rahul Sankrityayan

Oh! What a book! The writer is brilliant! Simply brilliant! This idea of presenting the history of Indian civilization coming from Aryans, then getting mixed with the 'Asuras' and finally maturing into a more contemporary outlook in the form of twenty short stories is just genius, brilliant, all superlatives! I read this book 'Volga se Ganga' by Rahul Sankrityayan in Hindi, the language it was originally written in 1942; the hindi being purer, our 'hinglish' generation, alas, will be a bit slow in reading. This is a book that unfolds more and you read it again. It is a cult and its eminence is a history in itself. It has been translated to English, Bengali, Russian, Malayalam, Telugu, Polish, Chinese and so many other languages. So the review is going to be heavy and lengthy one and this time I will not apologize for that. :)

The book specializes in presenting "point of views". Rahul Sankrityayan basically paints various timelines and landscapes while drawing the graph of the development of Indian civilization. He does it from the aspects of various characters true to their race, class, creed, sex and their time. The ideas of equality, justice, the conflict in judgement arising from how what is shown differs from what actually is, how politics of lust and power frames the history, where it wins and when and how it looses make the central theme of this book. And we practically see how ideals, notions, superstitions evolve over time to become a much stronger part of the civilization, completely detached from its roots but still retaining a touch if you scratch the surface.

Rahul Sankrityayan was famous for being an excellent scholar of languages, histories and mythologies; an ardent traveller whose aim of travel was understanding and knowledge. His writings are said to be well researched. Even though I haven't verified its authenticity completely, but when there is imagination in the very art of presenting history, personal opinion may abut the content and tinge the glass we are looking through. True! But still, for novices and history-insinceres (like me), and so I have heard for many elites of the history culture as well, this book a gem. You will, if you are an Indian or know of the Indian culture, will visibly see the past carnivals hold the seed of the society as it is today.

The thing I like about this book is that even though it talks through perspectives and opinions, its characters are not always anti-slavery, anti-racism but real, true to their ideas, intentions and necessities as people in a dynamic society are. Through them, you get to know how religion shaped the society, how brahmins-kshatriyas came to be 'gau-mata-poojak's from downright carnivorous society who consumed even pigs and horses, how races got mixed and what were the dynamics of that, how slavery from being a well hated concept came to be accepted and why that happened and how. I have read this book in Hindi which makes me sad as to why our so ferocious Hindu 'gau-hatya' haters have not read this book yet (Well most of them claim to be learned 'ved-pandits')!

It starts with blue-eyed, blonde haired Aryans settled near Volga in Caucasia in about 6000 BC. People were living in small clans, the society was matriarchal and hunting and incest were the basis of a family or a clan. Then sizes of nomadic clans began to grow, and the oldest blueprint of a human society was formed. Going back to 4500 years before, I think imagination plays a major role in drafting these stories. But the research is attributed to the "Origin of family private property and State" by Engels. Then we move towards the Himalayan mountain ranges. A bigger fraternity was a stronger alternative for survival, but along with came the vices as well. We see the birth of a position called 'indra'- the chosen leader, the strongest fighter and the supreme judge who acted for the people. Perhaps the idea of the Hindu god 'indra' was inspired from this!

The next stories trace the complete dynamics of how the reluctant diffusion of Aryans, Asuras(brown-skinned Northern Indians) and 'Solas'(the dark-skinned Southern Indians) created the race we Indians are today. This part of the book is said to be relying on the information from vedas, upanishads, ramayana, mahabharata, puranas and writings of some well known ancient names like Kalidasa, Banbhatta and so on. The 'brahmin' and 'a-brahmin' difference was once based on color. Then 'brahmin's used to be the educated and the fighter class. Further, the upper strata disintegrated into 'kshatriyas' and 'brahmins', the fighters and the 'acharyas'- the so called intellectual elite, the power holders. Slavery, untouchability whose 'authenticity' is claimed by 'hindu pandits' to be rooted in the great Indian 'mahakavya's were basically ideas drafted on payment by an "ashthan kavi"(poet of the court) of a king's or a rich man's court with the interest of glorifying the payer and keeping his power within his grip. The strata of women was now gutted down the drains and they were now mere objects of pleasure and no more than that. Slaves were traded as objects. Women slaves of a household were also part time pleasure objects along with being a servant, and their trade, inspite of the so-revered marital or birth status otherwise, remained unaffected by that.

While reading this part I was wondering if the present acharyas of Banaras or elsewhere even know of this history? Once, as these were being done, people perhaps knew the origins of these hypocrisies. But today, these are so well dissolved in our veins in terms of our 'reet-rivaaz' that damage conspired a thousand years ago still refuses to loosen its grip in the name of religion.

Then we arrive at the pre-contemporary and contemporary time lines of the history. Here we can easily judge the author for we are more aware of this part of the history than the previous ones. These last six stories start with prodding the time of the Mughals We see how Akbar and his ideology framed what is modern India today. Our constitution is based on one of his prime ideas- the panchayat raj. The stir in hearts to abolish slavery was helped by his old idea of equality and the notion of the success of an empire stemming from the content of its people first took place in the Indian subcontinent. This part is much more connectible to the present day reader. Then came the British and not only the panchayat raj suffered but the outline of a revolutions began taking shape. It took a long time, given our caste divisions, for a united voice to rise and ultimately win. With Mangal Singh's story we come to know that how even among the united one side of the rebellion, the driving factors can vary so much, and how that effects the course of the act. Rahul Sankrityayan was a communist. And the last two stories border on the ideology and its differences with Gandhi followers. Now, with the British in India the shape of our history was also attached to the ongoings of Europe and they were one important point that influenced our notions and reasons of revolt and revolution. The opinion about fascism, communism, socialism, nationalism started forming in the mind of the average Indian. Here we can almost hear what the writer believed in as the book draws to a close in 1942, the year it was published. Of the aftermath we know the basics. So, now its time to think!

Two of my seniors, Shauri di and Monalisa di, say you achieve a 'paradigm shift' after having read this book. I don't know about that but once you have read this book, you will have a certain understanding. Though of course not complete, you will have a basic and well-formed idea of how things work, how human greed, lust shapes religions, beliefs, superstitions and they civilizations. How power play is central to the growth of the civilisations, and perspectives matter. And you will almost feel sad seeing that so vigorous a society still thriving, not understanding, and your ideas just being one of the many perspectives as was Rahul Sankrityayan's among many.

The book ends with "satya se badhkar koi dharma nahi hai". It implies that no religion is greater than the truth. And that is what throughout this journey the writer has successfully tried to establish perhaps though what is the truth, differs from time to time and varies with the need of those who somehow become very important for various reason in shaping the history. How this happen and what are the reason? Well, the ball is in your court now! Play well.

I give Rahul Sankrityayan's “Volga se Ganga” full 5 stars.

So what are you thinking now?

Don't think much.

Over-thinking leads to stress.

Go and buy this book.

Then let me know in the comments if you can gently share some of your

(so-called) precious time (I know how much time you waste!).

Happy reading! :)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wow!...The review is too good. I'll surely put this book in my reading list.

  3. Please do... It is a great book... If you are in Indian, especially, which you are, it is a must...
    You will understand a lot of the present society with what happened before thousands of years and how they are still holding strong in our roots and daily life values, virtues and even point of views...

  4. Salute the great socialist writer Rahul Sankrityayan on his birthday today!

    1. It is really nice to see people remembering that great person... So few do now of our generation that his written gems seem forgotten...