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Tributes to an Iconoclast Scholar

Krishna Mohan Shrimali

Edited by Meera Kosambi
Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2013, pp. 389, Rs. 895.00


We have just completed the golden jubilee year of the publication of D.D.Kosambi’s ‘Combined Methods in Indology’ in the Indo-Iranian Journal in 1963. This remarkable essay was in print several decades before the vocabulary of ‘cultural turn’, ‘linguistic turn’, ‘ethno-archaeology’, ‘ethno-Indology’, ‘ethno-history’, ‘reading texts’, ‘collaboration of philologists and anthropologists’, and ‘multi-disciplinary studies’, etc., had become buzz words in academia. That essay had anticipated all of these sans semantic sophistry. It is widely acknowledged that Professor Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi (1907-66), though a professional mathematician, had brought a major paradigm shift in the writing of Indian history in general and its earliest period (‘ancient India’ in popular parlance) in particular. In the last nearly half a century since his untimely death in 1966, there have been several assessments of his life and works. These have taken the form of not only several commemorative volumes but also independent enquiries into his writings in diverse fields —Sanskrit literature, numismatics, India’s energy policy and the world peace movement, and of course, in his professional domain of mathematics. Such assessments have inevitably traversed different extremes—ranging between high eulogies (prasastis) and outright condemnation.   A self-confessed ‘Marxist’, who took special pleasure in ridiculing the OMs (‘Official Marxists’ not just of the erstwhile Soviet Union but also the Indian theologians of Marxism), has also been closely scrutinized for the soundness of his theoretical ideological moorings. For the present-day cultural chauvinist masquerading as ‘cultural nationalists’ who swear by the need to annihilate the three Ms (Marx, Macaulay and the Muslims), this iconoclastic Marxist critic and his numerous followers in the last six decades (Professors R.S. Sharma, Satish Chandra, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib and Bipan Chandra, to name just a few) are simply ‘anti-nationals’. After all, unlike these self-appointed custodians of ‘Indian culture’, DDK was not cast in the ‘glories of ancient India’ mould. Instead, culture for him, was to be understood in the context of the totality of the ‘complete historical process’ —a uniquely Indian process to be explained by the logic of India’s societal developments with its own graph showing ups, downs and curves. As if he had a premonition, Kosambi wrote to Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1965: ‘Most of my compatriots are up in arms about my idea of culture. To many of them, I appear a traitor, ignoramus or something of the sort (there have already been much harsher names) because I do ...

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