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Thirumangai Alwar - History vs. Traditional Account

From: Vijay Srinivasan (
Date: Tue Jan 02 1996 - 08:16:23 PST

Recently I was reading a book "Materials for the Study of the Early History of 
the Vaishnava Sect" by Raychaudhuri.  At several places, the author combats the 
Western view of our history.  Here is an example:

Writing about Thirumangai Alwar, historians like Bishop Caldwell held that 
Thirumangai Alwar was a disciple of Ramanujacharya!. This fact was accepted by 
some Indian historians too, (For eg. Gopinath)  as it was not without any 
basis.  However, the conclusion was proved to be entirely wrong.  It was one of 
those instances  where the secondary evidence  was allowed to preponderate over 
the primary. It appears to me that while scientific approach to historical 
research could be very useful in unveiling the truth, the tools used are still 
subject to interpretation (which is highly subjective) and therefore there is 
nothing definite or conclusive about most of these findings.   Thus, there 
appears to be as much uncertainty in the modern findings, as we would assume in 
the traditional account.

I always reconcile the differences between the traditional account and the 
"scientific" account in the following way: For a long time in India, 
information  was transmitted orally.  At some point in time these facts 
(possibly distorted and further amalgamated with fiction) got recorded in 
writing or entered into some kind of inscriptions.  Modern historians may be 
able to reckon only the recorded event.  I do not think they are able to get to 
the bottom of things which alone can give a satisfactory answer to the two 
fundamental questions:  What actually happened and when did it really happen.  
Notwithstanding the uncertainty in either accounts (traditional vs. modern), I 
think our purpose is better served if we focus on the spirit behind those 
scriptural texts which alone can elevate us to a higher order of living.

Vijayaraghavan Srinivasan