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Pre-Islamic history of West Asia

Manju Gupta

Once Upon a Time by Sudhakar Raje, Babasaheb Apte Samarak Samiti, 180 pp, Rs 100.00

Sudhakar Raje with painstaking effort has culled into some 200 pages the pre-Islamic Hindu history of the non-Muslim West Asia. He begins his book by saying that "icons, temples and scriptures (along with the language in which they are written) are evident, recognisable relics of the imprint Hindu influence has left on the world." Quoting Anwar Shaikh, a Pakistani Muslim scholar who, referring to Manu Smriti, has said, "Here is a Vedic law which clearly shows Vedic influence on the Middle Eastern culture and the Reformation that took place in Europe," the author says that the most modern imprint is that of the amazing progress of ancient Hindus who achieved in the sciences ranging from mathematics to medicine, from astronomy to engineering."

The book starts with Hindu influence in the hoary past in south- eastern Turkey at Nevali Cori. Prof. Herald Hauptmann of Germany, through excava-tion had come across "well planned massive structures, almost competing in finesse with the imposing architecture of the Assyrians who lived in the region thousands of year later. They are erected in staight lines and at right angles, like villas, with stone blocks. . . There was also an ancient form of air-condition-ing in each building. This was achieved though gaps in the floor, below which water from a stream in the region could be made to flow."

In Baluchistan is an island called Satadwipa where a Kali temple has been found and so is another temple of Mahadeva. This north-western region was a bustling centre of international trade during the heydays of the Indus Valley civilisation.

Archaeological research has resulted in discovery of protohistoric sites in Afghanistan that prove its close religio-cultural affinity with Hindu India. The author shows how references to Afghansitan, its rivers and towns are found in Rig Veda and that Ghazni had Hindu origin. What makes for moving reading is the reference to the two world-famous colossal statues of Buddha at Bamiyan, 53 and 35 metres tall, carved out of cliffs - "the remains that no longer remain" - thanks to the Taliban vandals who indulged in this wanton act because Islam required them to be butshikan (idol breakers).

The Iranian connection with Vedic India is traced back to the Rig Veda. The author quotes from Collecting the pebles Hibermicus written by Sir William Jones, "It has been proved by clear evidence and plain reasoning that a powerful monarchy was established in Iran long before the Assyrian or Pishdadi government, that it was truly a Hindu monarchy... that it subsisted many centuries, and that its history has been ingrafted on that of the Hindus who founded the monarchies of Ayodhya and Indraprastha."

Talking about the land between the two rivers - the Euphrates and Tigris, the author says ancient artefacts found in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) point to the link with Vedic Hindus. Seals found in Sumeria of Mesopotamia are similar to those found at Mohenjodaro.

Even Syria is said to have a Hindu past, so much so that it derived its name from Surya or Sun.

Arabia, the homeland of Islam has a long and rich Hindu pre-history. Arabia stands for Arabastan which is a distortion of Sanskrit name Asvasthan meaning the land of horses. He explains how Guru Nanak even said that Kaba (in Mecca) was a Shiva temple. Hind was a popular name among pre-Islamic Arabs. One of Mohammed's wives was named Hind.

Discussing Egypt's Hindu heritage, the author says that hieroglyphs of Middle East and Indus Valley civilisations were similar, and has quoted French historian, who has said that "Egyptians of those times considered that Osiris had originally come from India, the land of Shiva."

The author through his book has succeeded in presenting a review of the pre-Islamic past a what is now known as the West Asia, broadly tracing the near-westward spread of Hindu religion, culture and civilisation in ancient times. "The pre-Islamic Hindu history of the non-Muslim West Asia appears to have begun at least 9,000 years ago and it continued literally for millenniums, at last coming to an end on the day Mohammad inaugurated Islam, with the destruction of the Hindu shrine of Kaba."

The author has aptly concluded his book by quoting Arnold Toynbee who had said, "It has already become clear that a chapter which had a Western beginning will have an Indian ending. At this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for makind is the Indian way." (Babasaheb Apte Samarak Samiti, 7 Madhusudan, Playground Road, Vile Parle (E), Mumbai-400 057.)

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