by Ramesh Chandra Majumdar
Language : English
At a time when British and French colonial powers were locked into fierce competition, in particular in the Middle East, Indian scholar R.C. Majumdar, himself a British subject, did not hesitate to travel to Indochina and to dedicate his monumental study: "To The French Savants whose labours have opened a new and glorious chapter Of the ancient history and civilisation of India: this volume is dedicated in token of respect, admiration and gratitude by the author."
And in effect, Part II of the book consists of the transcription and translation into English of 130 Champa inscriptions that have been previously translated into French from Sanskrit (mostly) and Cham language by French scholars such as Abel Bergaigne, Barth, Louis Finot, or Henri Parmentier. The author, who readily acknowledged his "limited knowledge of Sanskrit and French", notes that "regarding the study of Indian literature in Champa, it is evident from the published inscriptions that up to the tenth century A. D. the Classic Indian Sanskrit Literature was thoroughly studied, probably even to the exclusion of the native literature, if there were any. Sanskrit became the language of the learned and the indigenous tongue suffered a cold neglect. Not only were Indian books imported and studied but even new books were written in Sanskrit, and the name of at least one such book and an extract from it has reached us."
In line with academic works of the time, the book centers on a chronological approach based on Champa dynasties. This allows to follow the fluctuations in the relations between the Cham and the Khmer kingdoms. While King Sambhuvarman was on good terms with the Tang China, sending embassies there in 623, 625 and 628, and was "on friendly terms with the Khmer King Mahendra-Varman who sent one of his ministers, Simhadeva as ambassador to the court of Champa", the new dynasty founded by Jaya Paramesvaravarmadeva Varman at the end of the 10th century retaliated to Annamite and Khmer invasions by inflicting "a cruel defeat upon the Cambodgians and took the town of Sambhupura. He destroyed a large number of temples there and distributed the Khmer captives among the temples of Srisanabhadresrvara."
The author comments at length on the cult of the primordial goddess Yapu-Nagara (or Pu-Nagara, or Baghavati Kautharesvari. In 1256, for instance, "Princess Suryadevi, daughter of king Jaya Indravarmadeva, gave a sum of money for making a statue of the goddess, and also gave various ornaments of gold and silver to the goddess and prescribed regulations for the dancing girls [among them were probably Khmer female captives] employed in the service of the goddess". The powerful goddess seems to have been for the Cham people not only the "Sakti" (consort) of Shiva but her equal, an "Ardhanari", "i. e. an idol which represents Siva and Durga in the same body, prominence being given to the female part under Tantric ideas." Incidentally, the last ruler of an independent Cham kingdom was a woman: "In 1822, Po Chong, the last king, unable to bear the oppressions of the Annamites, passed over to Cambodia with a colony of exiles, leaving behind princess Po Bia to guard over the so-called "Royal treasures of Cham" at Bal Chanar. She died a few years ago, mourned by her faithful subjects who looked upon her as the last emblem of their independence."
Joining Henri Parmentier in the assumption that "the primitive Khmer Art was not only very different from, but also in a decidedly inferior state of development that the primitive Cham Art," the author states in his introduction that "Champa has been selected as the subject of the first volume, partly because it is the remotest colony in the East, and partly because it is less known than Cambodge and Java on which general attention has been focused on account of the famous monuments of Angkor Vat and Boro-budur." For the author does not embrace the idea of local, native elites embracing Indian religion and culture: according to him, the rulers of ancient Champa (or Cambodia) were actually Indian "colonists" who "kept up the tradition of their motherland. In ancient India people laid great stress upon the special privileges of wearing particular dresses and using particular conveyances, and these distinctions were granted by the king upon poets and other great personages in recognition of their loyal, faithful services. Traces of these customs still persist in the Native States of India, particularly among the Rajput States."
About the Author
Ramesh Chandra Majumdar
Dr. Ramesh Chandra (R.C) Majumdar (4 Dec. 1884, Khandarpara, Faridpur, Bengal [now in Bangladesh] - 11 Feb.1980, Kolkata, West Bengal, India) was a groundbreaking Indian historian and professor whose 1919 book ‘Corporate Life in Ancient India’ drew new perspective on ancient India, and was one of the first Indian scholars who extensively explored India’s role in the political and cultural development of South-East Asia, writing on Hindu kingdoms in South-east Asia and Hindu colonies in the Far East.
A noted historian and academic, 'Acharyia' Majumdar served as the Vice-President of the International Committee for publishing History of Mankind : Cultural and Scientific Development, teached at Calcutta University, Rabindra Bharati University and Jadavpur University, and published the 11 vols. History and Culture of the Indian People.
Modern Hindu nationalists have claimed - and sometimes instrumentalized - his legacy. The fact is the historian challenged Nehru's policy regarding the Hindu-Muslim bipolarity of India, refuting the commonly held view that the Hindus and Muslims lived in harmony before the advent of the British rule and that the Hindu-Muslim tension was the outcome of the British policy to divide and rule. These two communities, the author holds, lived as “two separate communities with distinct cultures and different mental, and moral characteristics.”
As a free-spirited researcher, Majumdar published in 1957 an exhaustive and highly controversial history of the Freedom Movement in a three volume series titled the ‘History of Freedom Movement of India’, challenging many prevalent notion on various topics like Hindu Muslim relationship, Swadeshi Movement, Gandhi’s role, and militant nationalism. His academic positions include Vice Chancellor of the University of Dacca, First Principal at the College of Indology, Benares Hindu University (BHU) and Nagpur University, Visiting Professor of Indian History at the Universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and Bombay, president of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, Honorary Member of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona. He also served as president of the Indian History Congress and the All India Oriental Conference.
While sticking to his convictions and his strong feelings towards the specificity of Bengal, he relentlessly explored the Indian influences in Southeast Asia, publishing Champa, Ancient Indian Colonies in the Far East, Vol.I, Lahore, 1927, studies on Burma (Myanmar) and Java, and Kambuja Desa or An Ancient Hindu Colony In Cambodia, Madras, 1944.