From Amir Khusrau to filthy abuse


Akbar the Great (above) ruled his empire in the Indian subcontinent from 1556 to 1605

India these days is ­being ­identified with ­Hinduism. Our history tells us why patriots must stand against this.

English dictionaries are practically unanimous in defining patriotism as “love of, or zealous devotion to one’s own country” (so in the venerable OED). Inherent in this definition is the presence of other countries in comparison to which one places one’s own country on a higher pedestal. The OED quotes Horatio Smith (1836) to the effect that patriotism is “too often the hatred of other countries disguised as the love of one’s own”! One need not go so far, but, certainly, the placing of one’s country in one’s estimation above other countries is a common, if not essential, element of patriotism.

Patriotism thus requires not only the recognition of one’s own country, but also some degree of knowledge of, or concern with, other countries. First, of course, there has to be the consciousness of belonging to a country. Even in the Buddha’s time (c. 500 BC), there was no name or recognition of India as a country. The Sixteen Kingdoms (solah mahajanapada), which constituted the known or familiar group of kingdoms, all lay in North India. Ashoka’s use of ‘Jambudvipa’ for a larger region in the third century BC and the Kalinga ruler Kharavela’s reference to ‘Bharata’ in the first century BC are the first indications of the consciousness of a geographically definable territory, in which similar cultural conditions and social organisation (above all, the caste system) prevailed. But recognition of such a country, and even contempt for those who lived outside it—the Mlechchhas—did not imply any love or deep consciousness of belonging to India, a fact the Chinese traveller Yuan Chwang noted in the seventh century. No attempt at comparison of India with other countries has been traced simply because of an apparent lack of interest in lands outside India. Thus there is no ancient Indian text describing either Greece or China or any other country. It is, therefore, not surprising that the rich Sanskrit literature of ancient India should lack any text or poem setting India as an object of love and admiration or as different from, or superior to, other countries.

The first truly patriotic text came from the pen of the poet Amir Khusrau of Delhi in Persian. He knew all about Arab-Iranian and Turkic cultures and something about the Greek as well and so could with some substance make claims of India’s superiority over them. He does so at great length, in his Nuh Sipihr composed in 1318. He begins by justifying the writing of his ode to ‘Hind’ beca­use it was his “country of birth, his place of abode, his native land”. When he speaks of India, he has definitely in mind what we now deem to be the territory of India, as shown by his list of India’s spoken languages ranging from Kashmiri to Tamil (Ma’bari), and from Bengali to Sindhi.

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