Monday, August 22, 2011

Rama faith, not fact for Sharma


Vishwas se Ram milenge, itihas nahin (Faith can earn you Rama, not history),” R.S. Sharma told me when I visited him for the first time in 1996 to find out if the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP’s) claim that Lord Rama was born at the same place where the Babri mosque was erected was right.

It was ahead of the 1996 Lok Sabha polls when L.K. Advani was strongly backing the VHP-sponsored movement for construction of a Ram temple at site of demolished Babri mosque.

The raging debate on the streets about the Ram Janmabhoomi row in the run-up to the polls goaded me to reach out to the most renowned authority on ancient Indian history at his Boring Canal Road home here. Sharma, in his 70s then, was looking quite robust and also willing to speak.

Unable to fully comprehend what he meant by “vishwas”, I asked him to explain a bit. Sharma questioned me: “What subject have you studied and what do you do?” With a sense of trepidation I told him, “I have studied history and I am a reporter looking for an answer to a debate raging on the streets.”

Sharma, after a long pause, said: “Look, you have come to a historian who deals with facts. I have not found any historical evidence suggesting Rama actually existed and that he was born where some people are claiming to be his birthplace.”

However, he was quick to add: “I do not deny the existence of Rama. In my opinion he exists in the faith of the people. But you have come to a historian who does not deal with faith but facts.” Sharma then suggested to me sarcastically: “You should visit a spiritual leader or a faithful if you want to discuss Ram Janmabhoomi.”

The historian, while asking me in his commanding voice to have tea, went to another room and brought a book on the Vedic period written by him. “You first read this book to clear your concept and then come to me.” But the moment I picked up the book, he took it away from my hands saying, “I have not gifted you the book. Buy it from a bookshop and read. I am not a trader in books, I am an author.”

A bit embarrassed, I asked him if he did not believe in the existence of God or Rama. The author of 115 books on ancient Indian history remarked: “Your conception on faith and history is not very clear. See, all the festivals are celebrated in my family. As an individual I have nothing against my family members, relatives and friends worshipping Rama.

“But you have come to historian Ram Sharan. And the historian in Ram Sharan is yet to find any evidence to support the claim of Rama’s existence and his birth at a particular place and to particular parents.”

Sharma had a strong sense of humour. He once told me: “You might have got more bylines than Kalidas, Vanbhatt and even Chanakya.” Despite my insistence, Sharma refused to speak for or against the BJP or the VHP. Despite the notion that he was a staunch Marxist historian, Sharma refused to speak in the favour of the Communist parties either.

“See, the political parties are doing their work. I am not a politician. I am a historian and I will speak only on the subject that I have studied and taught. History and historians cannot always be politically correct,” he said.

Sharma was quite satisfied to read what I had written after talking to him. He was quite affable in my later encounters with him. But the teacher in Sharma always came to the fore when I met him. He always said, “Journalists must read. I find the current crop of young reporters woefully lacking in their sense of history. And the most appalling aspect is they don’t read but write in volumes.”

(Renowned historian and an authority on ancient Indian history, prof R S Sharma died on August 20. I paid my tribute to the great man through this story that appeared first in The Telegraph. Its copyright is reserved with The Telegraph)

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