Romila Thapar

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on 23 June 2016

Romila Thapar (born 30 November 1931) is an Indian historian as well as an emerita professor whose principal area of study is ancient India.


  • "Wealth in India, as in every other ancient culture, was limited to the few. Mystical activities were also the preoccupation of but a handful of people. It is true, however, that acceptance of such activities was characteristic of the majority… whereas in some other cultures the rope-trick would have been ascribed to the promptings of the devil and reference to it suppressed, in India it was regarded with amused benevolence. The fundamental sanity of Indian civilization has been due to an absence of Satan."
    • Romila Thapar, ‘A history of India 1. Pelican. (also quoted in [1] [2])
  • She reads the mind behind the capitalist conspiracy to reform Hinduism thus: "Capitalism is often believed to thrive among Semitic religions such as Christianity and Islam. The argument would then run that if capitalism is to succeed in India, then Hinduism would also have to be moulded in a Semitic form." (…)
    • Romila Thapar quoted in Elst, Koenraad. Negationism in India: concealing the record of Islam, quoting Romila Thapar
  • Characteristic of the Semitic religions are features such as a historically attested teacher or prophet, a sacred book, a geographically identifiable location for its beginnings, an ecclesiastical infrastructure and the conversion of large numbers of people to the religion-all characteristics which are largely irrelevant to the various manifestations of Hinduism until recent times. Thus instead of emphasizing the fact that the religious experience of Indian civilization and of religious sects which are bunched together under the label of ‘Hindu’ are distinctively different from that of the Semitic, attempts are being made to find parallels with the Semitic religions as if these parallels are necessary to the future of Hinduism. (…) “The teacher or prophet is replaced by the avatâra of Vishnu, Rama; the sacred book is the Râmâyana; the geographical identity or the beginnings of the cult and the historicity of Rama are being sought in the insistence that the precise birthplace of Rama in Ayodhya was marked by a temple, which was destroyed by Babur and replaced by the Babri Masjid; an ecclesiastical infrastructure is implied by inducting into the movement the support of Mahants and the Shankaracharyas or what the Vishwa Hindu Parishad calls a Dharma Sansad; the support of large numbers of people, far surpassing the figures of earlier followers of Rama-bhakti, was organized through the worship of bricks destined for the building of a temple on the location of the mosque.”
    • Romila Thapar quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2002). Who is a Hindu?: Hindu revivalist views of Animism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and other offshoots of Hinduism. ISBN 978-8185990743, quoting Romila Thapar
  • The link with Manat [the Arabian Goddess] added to the acclaim for Mahmud. Not only was he the prize iconoclast in breaking Hindu idols, but in destroying Manat he had carried out what were said to be the very orders of the Prophet.
    • Romila Thapar, quoted from Ayodhya: The Case Against the Temple (2002) by K. Elst.

Quotes about Romila Thapar[edit]

  • Romila Thapar, a prominent historian specializing in ancient India, has furthered a view of India that emphasizes its fragmentation. For this, she has been credited with changing the way Indian history is studied...Echoing Bishop Caldwell, G.U. Pope and other colonial-era Christians, Thapar speaks of identifying a ‘substratum religion, doubtless associated with the rise of subaltern groups’....Thus, Romila Thapar has become a powerful tool to reject the historical and cultural continuities that unite India and its civilization. ...[Romila Thapar's statement] that ancient Indians should be seen as mere ‘a cluster of distinctive sects and cults’. This characterizes Indian civilization as an amorphous and random collection like the tribes of other third-world nations before the European conquest... It reinforces the ideologies supporting the balkanization of India, seeing India as an artificial combination of thinly bonded or disconnected communities that must be liberated through separatist movements... She joined hands with western Indologists led by Michael Witzel in opposing the edits proposed by Indian parents in the California textbooks controversy, and dismissed the long list of factual errors in textbooks as a conspiracy of Hindu fundamentalists... Thapar is presented in the authoritative A Dictionary of the Marxist Thought as a Marxist historian in the dictionary entry for Hinduism.
    • Malhotra, R., Nīlakantan̲, A., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2016). Breaking India: Western interventions in Dravidian and Dalit faultlines.
  • Though she was already well-known, her hour of glory came with the unnecessary and artificial Ayodhya controversy. But in that controversy, she was on the wrong side. It doesn’t always come about, but in this case it did happen: justice. The wrong side, though absolutely dominant for more than a decade, was proven wrong. Her major claim to fame is now as the historian who was proven wrong, and this in a self-created controversy. I feel for her, she threw away her good reputation at the end of her career. Then again, she can still win it back by crossing the floor in time. She is in an excellent position, for instance, to create the much-needed dialogue between the different schools and disciplines in East and West; to stop the stonewalling, the guilt-by-association and the ridiculing that obstruct or poison the debate.
  • What is happening in India is a new, historical awakening. It seems to me that Indians are becoming alive to their history. Romila Thapar's book on Indian history is a Marxist attitude which in substance says: there is a higher truth behind the invasions, feudalism and all that. The correct truth is the way the invaders looked at their (own) actions. They were conquering, they were subjugating.... What is happening in India is a highly creative process.
    • V.S. Naipaul, An area of wakening, Interview by Dilip Padgaonkar. (The Times of India, July 18, 1993.) Quoted for example in [3] [4] [5]
  • “India has been a wounded civilization because of Islamic violence: Pakistanis know this; indeed they revel in it. It is only Indian Nehruvians like Romila Thapar who pretend that Islamic rule was benevolent. We should face facts: Islamic rule in India was at least as catastrophic as the later Christian rule. The Christians created massive poverty in what was a most prosperous country; the Muslims created a terrorized civilization out of what was the most creative culture that ever existed.”
    • V.S. Naipaul,, 15 November 1999 [6]
  • It is true that in the decades in which India was ruled imperiously by the Congress, the task of writing history textbooks was allotted to Leftist historians who chose to view India’s past through a distorted lens. The most celebrated of these historians, Romila Thapar, has gone so far as to deny that Muslim invaders destroyed the temples of us idolatrous infidels. Undoubtedly, if she were writing about more recent history, she would deny that the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan — and would say that they fell to pieces of their own accord.
  • Romila Thapar, an Indian historian... is reviled by some Indian scholars for her acquiescence to many western points of view.
    • Thomas C. Mcevilley - The Shape of Ancient Thought_ Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. Allworth Press (2001)

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