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Oak : The lone fighter, etymologist, and historian

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- By Prof. Shrinivas Tilak

Respected P.N. Oak There are no final answers to our questions about humanity's past. In world history, all "conclusions" must be tentative. Yet, accounts of the past construed by Western historians usually come neatly packed in western cultural and sociological paradigms. But the nagging question diligent seekers of truth about the past ask remains, "Is world history written from a Christian or Islamic perspective alone credible?" The fact is, world's distant past is pre-Christian and pre-Islamic. Though it remains unknowable, scattered evidence of an older world (that is periodically reported in world media) tends to arouse the speculative impulse of a historian like India's P.N. Oak who believed that our world's origins go back to its Vedic heritage.

Oak, the lone fighter

Born in 1917 in Indore (Madhya Pradesh, India), Purushottam Nagesh Oak was educated in Pune (Fergusson and Law College) and trained as a lawyer. When World War II began Oak enlisted in the Indian army. But when the legendary Subhas Chandra Bose gave a call to rise against the British raj, Oak threw himself (body and soul) into the Azad Hind Sena (Indian National Army = INA) started by Bose. For some time he acted as a private assistant (PA) to Bose and was later stationed in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh Ville), where he worked on the Azad Hind Radio as a broadcaster. When Japan lost the war and Bose himself was killed in a plane crash, the stranded INA soldiers were left to their own devices all across South-East Asia. Oak decided to walk back to India alone across the hostile and inaccessible mountainous terrain between Burma (Myanmar) and India. My first memories of meeting Oak go back fifty years to May 1957. I had just graduated from a high school in Pune and had gone to Delhi with my three sisters to spend the summer with our father who worked in the Railway Board. Our mother had passed away in 1946 and we therefore attended a boarding school for boys


and girls in Pune. A lonely widower, my father took to studying astrology as a hobby when he met Oak who used to supplement his income by writing astrology columns for a variety of magazines and newspapers. Since he had no secure government job and a large family to feed, Oak was forced to try his hand at a variety of jobs including a reporter for the Statesman and the Hindustan Times. For many years he was employed as information officer with the United States Information Service (USIS) at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. During the 1960s Oak often used to come to meet our father to discuss issues in astrology over a morning cup of tea. We used to take that opportunity to pump him about the legendary Bose and the exploits of the INA. But the lone fighter in Oak was now pre-occupied with something else. Having done his part in the struggle for India's political independence, he became a one-man brigade of an independent historian who had taken upon himself the thankless task of rescuing India's history which, he insisted, was hijacked by invaders from medieval times on. Oak began his historical odyssey with the hypothesis that (1) India's history has been thoroughly distorted by invaders to such an extent that Indians today suffer from cultural amnesia; (2) Indians have forgotten their own glorious tradition preserved in the epics and puras which are as good a source of history as modern historical documents; (3) In post-independence India secular and Marxist historians have drained Indian history of its Aryan and Vedic content and context; (4) The emphasis in today's historiography is on secularism and on appeasement of minorities of all sorts: cultural, linguistic, regional or religious; (5) In producing "idealized versions" of the past, India's Vedic heritage has been distorted beyond recognition; and (6) In fabricating history to serve contemporary goals of a secular society, historians of modern India have robbed India of its authentic past. In 1964 Oak established the "Institute for Rewriting Indian History" in Delhi to provide corrections to what he insisted were the biased versions of India's history written by its invaders, colonizers, and modern secular historians. The institute made no pretence at writing history in the sense implied in the works of western or westernized historians in India. The academic historian and the professional scholar are bound by firm rules of evidence. Assertions must be supported by verifiable facts. Speculation can go only so far. Though historical writing may be a part of literature, its professional practitioners avoid anything that might be exposed as mere fiction. Oak rather relied on a historiography that is more akin to the traditional Indian ways of recording history where the line between "myth" and "history" is not clearly drawn.

Oak, the etymologist

Oak claimed that the mother civilization, from which all world civilizations grew, was centred in India. Humanity came to be divided into two major groups: devas (progeny of Aditi, wife of Kayapa) and dnavas/daityas (progeny of Diti, another wife of Kayapa). While Indians trace their origin to Aditi and devas, populations of Europe and Egypt are the descendants of Diti and therefore are called daityas. The Greeks accordingly were known as Danao in Latin. Denmark, Danube, and Don are clearly derivatives of dnava. The Iranians and Mesopotamians are daityas too. Russia is derived from iya (Rushiya = land of the is--sages). The Mayas of Central and South America are the followers of demon Maya who escaped to Ptla (the land beneath India) by the western seas. The Caspian Sea takes its name from the sage Kayapa and the Samarkanda region from the sage r Mrkadeya. Palestine is derived from Pulastin, another Vedic sage. Cyprus is a mal pronunciation of the Sanskrit term ivaprastha signifying a centre of aiva worship. Oak argued that the so-called Indo-European groups of languages are local variations and/or mal pronunciations of Sanskrit. In support of the claim he advanced, Oak made liberal use of the discipline of


etymology, which goes back to Nighantu. A key concern in the Vedic texts (including the Upaniads) is to uncover the hidden correspondences that obtain among the sacrificial ritual (yajna), the cosmos, the social world, and the microcosm of the human body. These correspondences (also known as counterparts = bandhu; equivalences = sampad; and secret connections = upaniads) have cognitive value: they reveal knowledge which is not directly evident. A striking example of the knowledge that one can recover through meditation is to be found in the bandhus stated directly in propositional form in the five great statements (mahvkyas) in the Upaniads: I am brahman ( bandhu between I and brahman); that thou are (bandhu between that and thou) etc. The science of etymology is also based, in large part, on the phonetic similarities or resemblance ( bandhu ) between words and the things they designate. Resemblances between words are evidence of a direct connection between the 'word' and the 'world.' Sanskritist Patrick Olivelle cautions us in this context that Yska, Syaa, and others in that long line should not be dismissed as 'folk' etymologists too unsophisticated to know the true etymologies of the words they explain. Rather, they proceed on the assumption that the surface forms of language provide clues to the 'deeper and hidden connections' (see The Early Upanishads, New York: OUP, 1998: 25). With Johannes Bronkhorst, another Sanskritist, one may accept that such etymologies may not be historical or truly etymological. But they nevertheless express and enrich meaning (see "Etymology and magic: Yaska's Nirukta, Plato's Cratylus, and the Riddle of Semantic Etymologies," Numen 48 (2001): 147-203). Like poetry, fictitious etymologies are designed to substitute for the absence of a natural or empirical connection between language and reality. Poetry is not necessarily expressive of reality but rhetoric. It builds on appearances of similarities or resemblances between words. Victor Turner's discussion of fictitious etymologies used by Ndembu to explain their rituals as an important part of the 'inside view' or 'emic explanation' would also relevant in trying to understand Oak's reliance on etymology. Turner counsels us to pause and reflect before using etic arguments to dismiss such devices deployed emically. Fictitious etymology, like homonymy, is a device whereby the semantic wealth of a word or symbol is augmented (see Revelation and Divination in Dnembu Riual . Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1975). Even though most of the etymologies suggested by Oak will not stand academic scrutiny, each must examined carefully before rejecting it. His effort should not be summarily dismissed as mere Oakisms.

Oak, the historian

The objective of Oak's Institute for Rewriting Indian History was subsequently expanded and extended to inform the world that Vedic culture and Sanskrit language have been humanity's divine heritage until monotheistic religions came to dominate the world and control its written history. Oak's magnum opus is World Vedic Heritage, a huge tome (1375 pages, 150 pictures and illustrations; price Rs 400) wherein he cogently documents principal arguments and evidence gathered by Oak and other members of the institute. The institute also publishes an annual research journal. In writing World Vedic Heritage Oak was concerned with recreating, what he strongly believed, the vanished history of the world which began with the Aryans: their successes, failures, and ultimate fate. It is a spellbinding history of the world narrated by a master storyteller. Though general Indian reader will be enchanted by it, most professional historians will be greatly annoyed. True, physical evidence of Aryan origins in India and their migration beyond India is scarce but relevant archaeological finds uncovered in different parts of the world baffle historians and archaeologists. In the course of more than fifty years of research and on-site inspections Oak connected them to existing structures and constructions usually associated with the Indus Valley Civilization.


World Vedic Heritage relies on this germ of ancient history that most academics and scholars will not touch with a ten foot pole because they dread being laughed at by their peers. Oak could not prove his thesis with a body of solid evidence, but he did tell his fascinating tale persuasively. He cleverly made logical use of the scraps of evidence that do exist, such that the reader begins to feel that something like what Oak describes could have happened. In this, Oak drew on a living tradition of speculative and imaginative historiography going back to Vysa and Vlmiki where myth, fact, and fiction imperceptibly flow together. Yet he was graceful enough to acknowledge that some of his conclusions or accounts were founded on conjecture and analogy. Like Vysa and other pura writers he often deviated from the conditional into the indicative mood when hard evidence was lacking. Oak surmised that Vedic culture and Sanskrit (its medium of expression) were spread over vast areas of the ancient world--particularly Europe and Asia. Vedic culture only insisted that every person be a good, peaceful, and helpful member of society. It did not interfere in the personal belief system of individuals whether theist or atheist. A theist was free to choose whatever mode and form of worship. Religions of Egypt, Israel, and Iran, therefore, have several points of resemblance to the rites, beliefs, and mythology of the Vedic people ( i.e. Aryans). European archaeologists and historians begin their theories with an untested and childlike hypothesis (based principally on Biblical accounts of genesis) that human habitation began only a few thousands years ago. Modern archaeological finds are forcing them to push back their estimates of the antiquity of human habitation by millions of years. With this founding presupposition Oak built what he believed an alternative and more credible account of genesis of the ancient world. In an article published in his institute's Annual Research Journal (1997: 25) he referred to the Scandinavian scholar Sten Konow who had argued (citing the famous French Indologist Sylvain Levi) that in the remote past there existed a widespread civilization comprising India and other continents and islands bordering on the seas around India's coasts. This may explain the existence of parallels in Europe to the Durg Pj, which "takes us back to the times when Indian and European tribes were one people with a common language and common religious conceptions" (Oak 1997: 25). Yayti was one of the mightiest kings of ancient India whose progeny eventually peopled many western regions. Pharaohs of Egypt, for instance, are the Pauravas, i.e. descendants of Puru, the youngest son of Yayti. Jews are Yudus, the progeny of Yadu who was Yayti's eldest son. Modern Druids are descendants of Yayti's third son--Druhyu. Yayti's two other sons--Anu and Turvasu, respectively settled Anatolia and the area north of the Black Sea. Pending solid corroborating evidence, Oak's thesis and books based on it must be construed as "fiction," but it is fiction with a ring of truth. There is, for instance, evidence to suggest that ancient Indians were excellent seafarers and travelled far more widely than European and Muslim historians of India had led us to believe. Two international conferences held in Vilnius (capital of Lithuania) on June 22-23, 1998 broadly supported Oak's basic thesis that in the ancient world Sanskrit was an important link language. World Pagan Conference and World Congress of Ethnic Religions were held simultaneously in Vilnius and coincided with the annual summer solstice festival locally known as Rasa. The dominant themes of these conferences (one universal religion underlying a variety of religious expressions and tolerance of religious plurality) have been, as Oak ceaselessly points out, the hallmark of the Vedic culture. India has had close linguistic and cultural ties with Lithuanian (and perhaps European) language, history, and tradition. These two conferences are testimony to growing awareness in the world that (1) India is the homeland of one universal and eternal religion ( santana dharma) and (2) Sanskrit and sanskti, through which santana dharma is expressed, have served (can do so now) a bridge to world cultures and religions. Formerly a Baltic republic of the Soviet Union, Lithuania today is an independent country. The people of Lithuania speak the oldest surviving Indo-European language, which closely resembles ancient Sanskrit. It continues to have, for instance, seven declensions ( vibhaktis). The words for god, day, and son in Lithuanian


are dieva, diena, sunus (deva, dina, sunu in Sanskrit). Lithuanian language has preserved until the present day the complex phonetic system of the Indo-European speech ( Encyclopedia Britannica 1980 edition; curiously though, the 1992 edition has dropped any reference to this similarity of Lithuanian with Sanskrit). Scholars now recognize that Sanskrit can be employed as a tool of research in the comparative study of the past history and mythology of Europe and Asia. It can also contribute significantly to the cross-cultural study of world religions and cultures. Not surprisingly, the University of Vilnius has a large Department of Sanskrit. Lithuania was the last stronghold in Europe of nature religion and a syncretistic, tolerant cultural tradition before being Christianized in the fourteenth century. Subsequently, as indeed elsewhere, Lithuanians were divided into Christians (saved ones) and Pagans (doomed ones). Over the centuries vigorous efforts were made to obliterate all pre-Christian religious traditions in Europe and elsewhere where Christianity came to prevail. The fact nevertheless remains that Pagan religions did foster harmony between the natural and human. Paganism discounted the artificial division of our world into "believers" of this or that organized religion and those others who are pejoratively dismissed as non-believers ("pagans," "kafirs," "mleccha" etc). Pagan worldview rejects those military and political authorities who, in the name of organized religions, subjugate and enslave those who profess natural spiritual practices. Such an outlook shares much in common with modern liberal trends sweeping across the world. It is therefore not surprising that there is a renewed interest in and revival of Pagan religion in the world today. Particularly in Europe people are eager to rediscover their lost cultures and traditions. They are thirsty and hungry for the spiritual lore that disappeared with the advent of monotheistic religions. In Modern Lithuania it has given rise to the "Romuva Movement." This mood of optimism and perspective was also evident at the World Congress of Ethnic Religions held in London in 1998. Representatives of different ethnic religions (non-missionary religions that have no ambition to reduce local religions to one dominant world religion) endorsed the pagan worldviews that there is not just the absolute one God and the absolutely profane plural world, as in monotheism. There is both sacredness and profaneness within the world, as there is both oneness and plurality within the divine. Like Paganism, ethnic religions see themselves as a culture of truth, an exploration, and an experience, not as a belief in a fixed set of dogmas or creed. Delegates expressed opposition to the worship of a "jealous and wrathful god" who exhorts his followers to force or induce non believers to give up their ways of worship. God cannot be partisan or jealous because such a depiction sows discord and violence amongst different groups and factions. Truth is, god and nature are not jealous. Is the sun jealous? Does the moon betray jealousy? The rivers, stars, forests, fields, lakes, oceans are all manifestations of god who showers beneficence upon all. God/Goddess is absolutely free of jealousy or favour. Thus interpreted, "pagan" worldview shares much in common with Vedic culture in general and with santana dharma in particular. In his various writings Oak speculated that "pagan" was a corrupt form of bhagavn. This claim received some support in the papers read by Rajinder Singh, Surinder Paul Attri, and Arwind Ghosh who represented India at Vilnius explaining the Hindu perspective on the central theme of the conference "unity in diversity." They shared the thoughts and points of views of the religions of India on the means of restoring in the modern world sacredness of all life and divinity of nature. Oak's work is comparable in many respects to Canadian writer Farley Mowat who has put forth a theory (developed in his latest book The Farfarers) that Albans (ancient inhabitants of northern British Isles) explored and even settled North America fifteen centuries ago. Formidable seafarers and traders in walrus tusks and hides, Albans reached, according to Mowat, western Newfoundland in search of their hunt centuries ago. Some of them settled there and were eventually absorbed by the indigenous people of North America.


Like Mowat, Oak made good and sensible use of the odd clues and the evidence that fifty years of personal investigation and study gave him.The two volumes of his World Vedic Heritage will no doubt provoke controversy, as Oak's works always do, but academic historians must not simply ignore him. They must take up his challenge and engage him [his writings now] in a scholarly debate.

Oak [and Godbole] on the Taj Mahal

Back in 1965 Oak put forward a theory that the Taj Mahal was not a mausoleum built by Shahjahan but a Rajput Palace. In 1968 he found supporting evidence to that effect in Shahjahan's official chronicle Badshahnama and in 1974 he came across a letter by Aurangzeb written in 1652 (the year when Taj Mahal is supposed to have been just completed) complaining that the Taj Mahal was leaking all over. In 1978 Oak's book The Taj Mahal is a Temple Palace came out which V. S. Godbole (an engineer working for the London Underground in UK and also a researcher in Indian history and in the thought of V.D . Savarkar) read and found thought provoking . Over the next two years Godbole went through the relevant references provided by Oak and was convinced of Oak's assertion. In 1981 Godbole's research went deeper and he began to ask "Were the British scholars just a neutral third party who were either (1) misled by the prolonged misuse of Hindu buildings as Mosques and Tombs or (2) were not cunning enough to see through chauvinistic Muslim claims? Or (3) did they know the truth about Taj Mahal and other monuments all along but had, for political reasons, hid the truth?" By the end of 1981 Godbole had prepared an eighty page dossier on the subject and placed his findings in a chronological order. He was surprised at the findings. There was indeed a British conspiracy of suppression of truth about Taj Mahal and other monuments over the last two hundred years. The main personalities involved either knew each other and/or referred to works of each other. With time new information came to light which confirmed Godbole's findings. In his painstakingly done research now published as a book "Taj Mahal: The Great British Conspiracy," Godbole makes the following points (admirably summarized in B. Shantanu's Blog Hindu Dharma News Letter # 5): (1) Architect: On the question of who planned the Taj Mahal, there is very little agreement amongst various writers and travelers. Even the origin of the person (whether he was Farsi, Indian, Italian) is disputed. The name that comes up most frequently though is that of Ustad Isa: For Godbole, it is certainly a fabrication because there is no mention of him prior to the 19th century. (2) Time Taken and People Involved: Almost all the accounts quote Tavernier who says that the building took 20,000 people and was twenty-two years in the making. This account differs considerably from Manrique's (a Portuguese preacher) who was in India during the same time. He only noticed one thousand people working there. Although Manrique's testimony is not completely reliable either, the difference in numbers is too stark to ignore. One way of resolving the contradiction would be to say that twenty-two years were taken and 20,000 people were employed to build the original Taj Mahal; not by Shahjahan but by Raja Mansingh or someone else. Manrique saw one thousand people engaged in the "embellishment" and other suitable changes that were ordered by Shahjahan to (i) formally complete the acquisition of the property and (ii) to change the character of the building by including Islamic motifs and style (inscribing verses from the Qu'ran on it). (3) Badshahnama: There are scant references to this official chronicle of Shah Jahan's reign in most accounts by historians or Indologists. It makes no mention of any grand building newly constructed by Shahjahan during his reign. One important passage in Badshahnama is ignored by the mainstram scholars and historians presumably because they are unable to verify the authenticity of the actual document itself. The passage in question clearly states that Shahjahan acquired Raja Mansingh's "manzil" (not "zamin" i.e. plot or tract of land as quoted by some scholars).


(4) Architecture: The architecture of the building, when examined in detail and without bias, clearly reveals a number of features that are unmistakably "Hindu." (5) Unexplained structures and underground chambers: Other than long corridors and rooms at several levels (actually, there are seven of them!), the Taj complex includes moorings for pleasure boats (what purpose could they conceivably have in a mausoleum?). Several photographs, drawings and reports about the Taj are either still classified or are untraceable. No one quite knows when was the last time (or indeed at all that the monument was "surveyed" by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) (In February 2007 I attended a lecture on Taj Mahal by Godbole in Pune where he emphatically asserted that to date the Taj Mahal has not been properly surveyed). (6) Missing evidence: No extant blueprints or scale models of the building have been found to date. There is no mention about these at all except for a "legend" of a wooden model that was supposedly built. (7) Missing credits: The only signature on the tomb is that of the calligrapher. Was he the only person of note or the only important contributor to the structure? How is it that there is no mention of the designer or the architect or indeed even of Shahjahan? Is that realistic if a building of such grandeur was constructed from the scratch? Continued silence by the ASI and the Government of India does not inspire confidence. Many historians and academics are fearful of a backlash if the building that has been proudly trumpeted as representing the best of Islamic art may turn out to be Hindu. The challenge before us is how to balance historical truth and academic integrity with public peace and "communal harmony."

Oak on secularism
Oak documents one instance of a twisted logic behind a secularist interpretation of history by an agency of a state ruled by a Marxist government. In 1970, an issue of a magazine published by the Directorate of Information and Publicity of the West Bengal government carried a photo of a 'mosque' in Murshidabad showing on its verandah badly mutilated images of Ganesa. The caption underneath the photo explains that the Muslim Sultan who commissioned the 'mosque' was so secular that to satisfy Hindu sentiments he had the 'mosque' decorated with the the images of Ganesa. At the same time, to respect the dicta of Islam, he had them badly mutilated! (see P.N.Oak World Vedic Heritage (2 vols). Delhi: Hindi Sahitya Sadan, 2003 1: 1163. I have always found the mainstream Indologists' verdict on Purushottam Nagesh Oak as a lunatic and his writings worthless (without seriously examining his arguments) very troubling because it is uncivil, unacademic, and counterproductive to Indology.