A lesser-known fact about Saletore is that he edited the voluminous correspondence of the East India Company for the years from 1782 to 1785 as the head of the National Archives. This was eventually published as Fort William-India House Correspondence Vol 9, running up to about a thousand pages.
Partial List of Saletore’s Works
We can now look at a partial list of Saletore’s works:
· Social and Political Life in the Vijayanagara Empire in two volumes
· Ancient Karnataka--History of Tuluva
· Medieval Jainism with special reference to the Vijayanagara Empire
· Karnataka's Trans-Oceanic Contacts
· Main Currents in the Ancient History of Gujarat
· India's Diplomatic Relations with the East
· India's Diplomatic Relations with the West
· The Sthanikas and their Historical Importance
· Vaishnavism in Vijayanagara
· Ancient Indian Political Thought and Institutions
These apart, Saletore substantially contributed long form essays, articles and monographs to various journals as we shall see later.
Section 2: Background of Saletore’s Work
Before we examine Saletore’s legacy in some detail, it is essential to briefly describe the conditions of history research about India during his time. At its core, history research in India was a direct branch of the larger colonial tree of Europe’s long-term effort to understand non-European cultures in order to maintain their hegemony more effectively and for as long as was physically possible.
Apart from and in fact, due to the imperial and racist bias intrinsic to such efforts, this phenomenon brought an entirely new perspective and approach to the study of India’s past, speaking in a comprehensive sense. This perspective can only be called revolutionary in a way that was detrimental to how Indians…specifically, how Hindus began to look at themselves and their past. To put this in a highly simplified fashion, this perspective was Biblical and its most disastrous consequence was the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT).
Thus, every area of studying India’s past was force-fitted to this supposedly infallible theory, which had acquired the status of incontrovertible truth, but in reality, was a global falsehood that eventually became a cult. We can cite one of the most egregious instances of how this falsehood was ruthlessly propagated and maintained with an iron clasp.
In 1922, John Marshall, the director general of the Archeological Survey of India learned of a discovery that forced him to take a decision which would either uphold the truth of the history of ancient India or threaten the hold of Britain on India. His subordinates, R.D. Banerji and D.R. Sahni sent him detailed field reports which would conclusively overturn the Aryan Invasion Theory. These were the momentous discoveries of the now famous remains of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro which predated the supposed arrival of Aryans into India by a few thousand years.
What Marshall did with Banerji’s reports was rather straightforward and entirely characteristic of a colonizer: he simply suppressed Banerji’s field reports for eight long years during which period Marshall concocted his own theories about Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro so that they conformed to the AIT hoax. Not just that, he published this spurious analysis as a long article in the Illustrated London News. More despicably, Marshall also took credit for the discovery of these ancient cities and did not mention the real work done by Banerji, et al.
Finally, in 1930, he returned typed copies of Banerji’s reports. To his dismay, Banerji found that all the photographs and scores of crucial reports that he had originally sent were missing. John Marshall did not return Banerji’s original reports and photos despite repeated requests. With that, Banerji’s career was destroyed overnight and he was shunted out of archaeology. Decades after Banerji’s death, his publisher revealed the full gory story. The following is a brief excerpt:
R.D. Banerji, the man who really discovered the antiquity of Mohenjo-Daro and deserved credit for it, was gagged and silenced by Marshall through designs unbecoming of a genuine scholar.
The reason for recounting this episode at some length is to provide an idea of the kind of criminal constraints that our exemplars of Indian wisdom were working under. If this could happen in a practical and science-driven field like archaeology where physical sites and discoveries were brazenly falsified and the crime was gotten away with, we can only imagine the kind of threats and an atmosphere of unsaid oppression that Indian scholars working in constantly-evolving fields like history faced.
Saletore was no exception to this phenomenon although he didn’t meet with a fate similar to R.D. Banerji. But that does not mean that he was not in the red-eye of the European academic community as we shall see.
Like all his contemporaries, Saletore was a polyglot proficient in Sanskrit, Kannada, Marathi, Konkani, Tulu, English, and German. He also mastered Gujarati. He learnt classical Tamil and classical Telugu solely in order to study inscriptions, grants, and other historical documents related to the Vijayanagara Empire. This is but a tiny sample of how he prepared for writing his magnum opus.
Saletore’s other distinction is the fact that he was the first Indian historian to conclusively demonstrate the value of using epigraphical sources as primary evidences for reconstructing and writing truthful histories of India. This does not mean that earlier or contemporary scholars didn’t use epigraphic sources. However, it was coloured with a sense of prejudiced skepticism and had a rather dismissive air about it. This attitude was again rooted in the Biblical or Eurocentric view of the history of Bharatavarsha.
We can cite a practical example of this attitude. The German Indologist and scholar Breloer, was a great admirer of Kautilya simply because he regarded Kautilya as the equivalent of say, Hermann Goring to Chancellor Hitler. Naturally, Breloer’s equation proceeded on these lines:
Chancellor Hitler = Chancellor Chandragupta Maurya
The German Nazi Empire = the pan-Indian Mauryan Empire
Hitler’s agrarian policies = Chandragupta Maurya’s agrarian policies
Breloer stretches these parallels using unbelievable leaps of logic and generous misreading of ancient Indian history in his fat book on Kautilya. Like others of his time, Breloer conveniently disregarded everything in the Arthasastra and other Chanakayan lore that did not fit his pet thesis. And he was particularly contemptuous of our Sasanas and epigraphic records. In a delicious rebuttal to Breloer’s untenable acrobatics, the scholar and professor Binoy Kumar Sarkar remarks:
One wonders as to why Breloer felt it necessary to fling a joke at the student of inscriptions. All inscriptions are not genuine or objective accounts of actual facts. But should one happen to hit upon an inscription that is not only authentic but also contains an unembellished statement of events, etc…there is hardly any doubt that every document of Sastra literature would have to be appraised by reference to this touchstone. Under those circumstances, the Sastras must follow the inscriptions as authority for positive history.
To be continued