Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Lesson from History

I consider myself fortunate in that I still have some link with the village in which my ancestors lived. My grandfather built his house there, and my grandma and uncle's family still stay in the same place.

It's a beautiful place that still retains it's historical charm. Now this is more like personal history. Stuff like- where my grand-father used to sit after his walk- or where my grandmother's family lived- the small rivulet which, back in the old days, they had to cross by swimming (back then there was no bridge as there is now). There is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the village school which was donated by my great-grandfather. Small stuff which make me feel very connected to this little village, though I've hardly spent any time at all there.

Like all good villages my village too has it's own history and folklore. The Shivan Temple in the village is supposed to be over 800 years old! But the most eventful and interesting bit of common history(as different from personal!) for all you folks out there will be this: Tipu Sultan had come to my village!

Yes, the story goes that the great- 'Tiger Tipu' had set foot in my little village all those many centuries back. Now Tipu Sultan, for those of you who don't know, is one of the most famous Kings from Indian History. He ruled over the state of Mysore in the late 18th century, and for long was the British's most feared enemy in India. He fought many battles with the Brits, but he lost the war and had to surrender his kingdom. And with that, the last whiff of resistance to British rule was put out.

For this reason many consider Tipu to be a great hero. There was even a television series on him that used to play on National TV. He's part of Indian Legend. But the story coming out of my village was very different.

According to folks in the village, Tipu was a ruthless plunderer who cut down/grabbed anything that came his way. He was responsible for some savage acts of brutality and one of these has actually to do with my village.

One peculiar thing about my village is that there are no Brahmins. For those of you wondering what's so peculiar about that- let me explain.  Most villages in India are organized along caste. Each caste will be represented in each village. You don't have a village of only high-caste or only low-caste people. Each caste fulfilled a particular role or duty to fit in the larger scheme of things. That's why in most villages you find that each caste will be represented.

But there are no Brahmins in my village(which hopefully now, after my explanation, you will find peculiar!). The story was that Tipu came to the village and ordered the Brahmins to convert. The Brahmins refused and, in an act of most savage brutality, he killed the whole lot of them and destroyed the main temple.

Proof that this temple existed has been found. It's on top of a hill right next to my village. It is said that in the olden days it was as famous and sacred as Sabarimala. Sabarimala has only 18 steps to climb. But this hill has 200 steps. The villagers have got together recently(recently in my village is 50 years back) and re-built the temple.

So reading the above story you will understand why I didn't admire Tipu like most others did. To me- he fit the perfect stereotype of Muslim ruler and I hated him for that. Stories and legends like that make you believe in what many of our Hindutva brigade are saying. They make your blood boil.

But this last time when I went to my village I decided to do a bit of research on the topic. I found an old book that was titled -" The History of Kakkayur". Kakkayur is incidentally my village's name. The book was in Malayalam(which I can't read) and was supposed to be very well researched. I got my 2 younger cousins to sit with me and we went through  the whole thing.

Finally we reached the legend of Tipu in Kakkayur. According to the book- Tipu never asked the Brahmins to convert. It was a devious scheme of the erstwhile Nair community(which I belong to!) to use Tipu's services and drive out the Brahmins from the village and become the most important caste. The book doesn't go in to the details of what exactly happened but just gives the brief. Oh... and the Brahmins... they didn't die... they just shifted base to a nearby place and started a village out there all on their own. This village still exists!

Oh... and the temple... it wasn't destoyed by Tipu. It was destroyed in a great fire.

So you see... everyone has their own little version of history. People bend history to suit their needs. My ancestors must have known that they were complicit in driving the Brahmins out of Kakkayur and thus decided to villify Tipu Sultan to save themselves. And that legend just passed on and on and on.


What did I learn from the whole thing? Don't jump to conclusions on history. Do your own research. Usually people are hiding something somewhere. It's for you to dig and find out.

And I'm not singling out my ancestors here, or my caste. Everyone's guilty of the same thing. At a personal/ group level we all make up stories along the way- and finally we end up believing those stories. And that's an important lesson for us to learn from history!

18 comments:

Nitin said...

wow, that's one fascinating story :)
800 years old! *eyes popping out*

Darshan Chande said...

It's a human tendency to fabricate things. And as for the things like this I guess you can never tell for sure what you know is right. The book which you mentioned is also written by some one.

Well, to believe or not to believe, that's the question :P

V Rakesh said...

It's nice to know how intimately you connect with the place that you regards truly home!

Hey, somehow when I read this piece, it seemed to me that you sounded way too different from the usual you! Maybe that's coz you've been away too long, way too long! Don't do that kid!

A New Beginning said...

Yes Ajai I totally agree with you, history can be very misleading coz it doesnt deal with facts , its just interpretations mixed with narrations....It can also spread ill feelings if used in the wrong way...I hope people realise and try to find out the reality behind things which in itself is a very difficult task.
Youve described your grandparents village beautifully!

AJai said...

@Nitin
Ya... it's pretty incredible.

@Darshan
You have a very good point there and I thought the same thing too as soon as I wrote the post. I nyway decided to go ahead and post. Maybe we should all be skeptical of history.

@Raks
It has been long Raks. Don't have a system with me and becomes very difficult to blog. I hope to somehow get back to posting regularly. I really want to.

AJai said...

@Raks
Raks why is it so difficult to leave comments on your page? I've been trying umpteen times... but it just doesn't accept it.

V Rakesh said...

Really? I don't know! What was the error message? Or was there any?

sh..... said...

history is always written by the ones who win the era...:-)

AJ, btw you are from palakkad? Kerala?

anupama said...

Dear Ajai,
Good Evening!
Interesting;give the book;I will read it for you!:)
I feel like visiting this beautiful village;swimming the river!wow!
Wishing you a lovely night,
Sasneham,
Anu

AJai said...

@Sana
I like the way you put it. History is not facts. It's interpretations. Brilliant. That's the essence of my post.

AJai said...

@Raks
There was an error message. There still is. It's like the site doesn't want me to leave any comments! :P

@sh
Well... the fact that we have all survived to this date makes us all winners. I think Sana said it best- history is not based on facts, it's based on interpretations. So it's how you interpret things. Darshan also made an interesting point and that's also an interpretation. One must be aware tat one might not be following the truth. That's important.

AJai said...

@sh
Also- I want to know how you concluded I am from Palakkad. I haven't mentioned that in the post. And yup I am from Pgt.

AJai said...

@Anupama
Hi... Welcome here.
Ya we could do a reading of the book. That will be great. Thanks! :)

Samvedna said...

yeah..history is not always true, because even what is today happening will be interpreted and written by different people in different way, and some of them will be lucky enough to be called genuine, and their version will read by our future generation.

V Rakesh said...

I guess it was a blue moment for the ID system then! Let's hope that it doesn't happen again! :)

AJai said...

@Samvedna
Absolutely... let's hope we all find ourselves on the right side of history!

@Raks
I'm still having probs with it bro.

anilkurup said...

History is written by the Victor.
In this case the local community had the resources to usurp others and plant the story that would vilify Tippu.
There where exceptions amongst Muslim rulers of India. Though the majority of invasions by Islamic forces across the Hindukush resulted in pillage and destruction of Hindu temples. Rulers like Tippu and Akbar where far-sighted and tolerant of other faiths.
Good that you took pains to do a research.

AJai said...

@anilkurup
Thanks. I appreciate you appreciating it. :)