A step towards the exploration and study of the immediate past, say from AD 1700-1950, could be seriously undertaken by setting up a major archive of all such material on India, whether from within India or from Britain, etc., which the present day Indian archives, governmental as well as private, do not possess. Private institutions and persons who have the resources as well as concern should preferably set this up. The place where it is to be set up should have some scholarly background or at least possibilities of it and should not be such that it is physically dominated by governmental administration or by some major industrial network. The setting up of such an archive could possibly cost about Rs.100 crores, and its use by scholars, students and others another Rs. 5–10 crores annually. Besides archival material, it should have all necessary reference literature relating to India as well as most of the post 1500 world. It may be mentioned that the British library in London has some two crore books, and the library of the US Congress some four crore. A large number of Universities in Europe and America and perhaps also in China as well as Japan each have about one crore books besides journals.
If we are serious about understanding our past as well as know much more about the world, our effort and undertaking must be commensurate with our objectives. It is possible that setting up such an archive which may within a few years become a major centre of research would lead to the formation of many other centres of knowledge and learning including the creation of a University suited to the requirements of India and its people.
There has recently been a major study of the people of India by the Anthropological Survey of India. It has been published in some 60 massive volumes, 11 relating to India as a whole and the rest pertaining to the various states of India. According to this survey, to a large extent based on the British censored data, collected from 1881 onwards, the people of India are constituted by over 4,000 professional, jati, and ethnic groups. Out of this around 500, perhaps more, seem to have followed industrial occupations. Around 200 –300 groups may be taken to have played music in temples and on other occasions besides being engaged in other activities. Possibly a 100 or more used to deal with health related matters and were well versed in surgery, the setting of broken or dislocated bones, and were proficient in the use of ayurveda, siddha etc. and in acrobatics as well as yoga and were also engaged in dancing etc..
Large numbers of these professional groups still survive but at a very low and ignored level of existence. The British classed some of them as criminal tribes or thieves or dacoits. The treatment and classification started after 1858 by the British continues even today as is evident even from the study, though in some instances with different names. It seems as if the groups themselves were not asked by the researchers of the Anthropological Survey to give individual accounts of their background or what their ancestors actually did till the later part of the 18th century when a large number of them lost their professions and were reduced to poverty and wretchedness.
Incidentally, the British did a survey of a few jatis in Madras around 1770. Warren Hastings, who was in Madras till then, initiated the survey and the jatis were asked to define themselves. The Chamars of the Madras area had then said that ‘they were great soldiers and that they also made saddles’.
According to the People of India Survey amongst the 4000 group surveyed, some 1780 have jati puranas. It is to be hoped that the Anthropological Survey has been wise and has collected these jati puranas, and if some of these jati puranas were merely known orally, then they have been written down.
Besides the jati puranas, India has sthal puranas, which possibly number in tens of thousands. In addition there are village histories, a large number of them also to be found in Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner. We also have the Champu literature, mostly perhaps in Sanskrit and being written till at least the beginning of the 17th century.
Coming to the most ancient times, we have the Vedas, which according to tradition were divided by the great Vyasa from one into four and by his disciples into some 1200 shakhas. After the Vedas we have the Brahmanas, the Upnishadas and then the Puranas. Besides the Puranas we have the Ramayana, originally composed by Valmiki, and later in Tamil by Kamban, the Adyatama Ramayana followed by the much more known Rama Chrita Manas of Tulsidas. The Indian tradition believes that there are hundreds of Ramayanas in the different languages of India and many in the languages of the countries, which adjoin it.
Rama is also considered to be born time after time, in different yuga cycles but always in Ayodhya and as son of Dashratha. Tulsidasa in the Ram Charita Manas beautifully describes this happening and the divine crow, Kaga Bhushandi, tells the story of it.
Besides the above, we have numerous darshanas, books on grammar, old dictionaries of the languages of India, text on Indian sciences like astronomy, arithmetic, on chemistry, agriculture, and a large amount of literature on vastu shastra, which includes architecture, town and village planning and allied matters. Then we have various texts on niti, on laws and on keeping man and the domestic animals healthy. The Charak Samhita and the Sushrut Samhita are the more well known amongst these texts. Then we have texts on music and dance like the Natya Shastas and works on aesthetics. Besides that we have high literature like the plays by Bhasa, Kalidas and countless others. Starting from much before the Christian era and going well into the 17th century, we have texts on logic and commentaries on Vedas and other sacred literature. The Adi Shankara wrote several texts and Saynas commentary on the Vedas etc. are well known even today.
Besides the above there are the religious, scientific and literary texts of the Jains, as also of the Buddhists, who spread over most of Asia; and in later times of the Sikhs and the Ligayats. In all, this ancient literature would perhaps number in tens of thousand of volume.
Though a large part of the texts mentioned above have been published here and there during the past 150 years or so, we have not yet considered publishing them in standard and well-printed, bound versions. Similarly we have a very large amount of knowledge about the universe, about the world around us, about our plants and trees, our animals, birds and insects, about our rivers, lakes and mountains and in today’s world it all has to be put in print for our children as well as grown ups so that they have an awareness not only of India’s past but also its present and about the nature, in the midst of which we live. Similarly we need to know about our festivals, about the variety of our food, about the connection between natural phenomena and various forms of life, about our various calendars, most of which seem to start every sixty years. All this has to be well written down and should form an essential part of the education of our people and our children.