5. INDIA, ITIHASA, AND INTER-HISTORIOGRAPHICAL DISCOURSE

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ABSTRACT

An effective and enriching discourse on comparative historiography invests itself in understanding the distinctness and identity that have created various civilizations. Very often, infected by bias, ideology, and cultural one-upmanship, we encounter a presumptuous-ness that is redolent of impatience with the cultural other and of an ingrained refusal to acknowledge what one's own history and culture fail to provide. This “failure” need not be the inspiration to subsume the other within one's own understanding of the world and history and, thereby, neuter the possibilities of knowledge-sharing and cultural interface. It is a realization of the “lack” that provokes and generates encounters among civilizations. It should goad us to move away from what we have universalized and, hence, normalized into an axis of dialogue and mutuality. What Indians would claim as itihasa need not be rudely frowned upon because it does not chime perfectly with what the West or the chinese know as history. accepting the truth that our ways of understanding the past, the sense of the past, and historical sense-generation vary with different cultures and civilizations will enable us to consider itihasa from a perspective different from the Hegelian modes of doing history and hence preclude its subsumption under the totalitarian rubric of world history. How have Indians “done” their history differently? What distinctiveness have they been able to weave into their discourses and understanding of the past? Does the fact of their proceeding differently from how the West or the Chinese conceptualize history delegitimize and render inferior the subcontinental consciousness of “encounters with past” and its ways of being “moved by the past”? This article expatiates on the distinctiveness of itihasa and argues in favor of relocating its epistemological and ideological persuasions within a comparative historiographical discourse.

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