I was amused to read ‘How History was made up at Nalanda’ by Arun Shourie (June 28, IE). Since he has referred to me by name and has charged me with fudging evidence to distort the historical narrative of the destruction of the ancient Nalandamaha vihar, I consider it necessary to rebut his allegations and set the record straight.
My presentation at the Indian History Congress in 2006, and not 2004 as stated by Shourie, was not devoted to the destruction of ancient Nalanda per se. It was in fact focused on the antagonism between the Brahmins and Buddhists, for which I drew on different kinds of evidence, including myths and traditions. I cited the tradition recorded in the 18th century Tibetan text Pag sam jon zang by Sumpa Khan-Po Yece Pal Jor, mentioned by B.N.S. Yadava in his Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century (page 346) with due acknowledgement, though Shourie is quick to discover plagiarism on my part. I may add that “Hindu fanatics” are not my words but Yadava’s, which is why they are in quotes.
Shourie is dismissive of the Tibetan tradition, which has certain elements of the miraculous in it, as recorded in the text. Here is the relevant extract from Sumpa’s work cited by Shourie: “While a religious sermon was being delivered in the temple that he [Kakut Siddha] had erected at Nalanda, a few young monks threw washing water at two Tirthika beggars. (The Buddhists used to designate the Hindus by the term Tirthika). The beggars being angry, set fire on the three shrines of Dharmaganja, the Buddhist University of Nalanda, viz — Ratna Sagara, Ratna Ranjaka including the nine-storeyed temple called Ratnodadhi, which contained the library of sacred books” (page 92). Shourie questions how the two beggars could go from building to building to “burn down the entire, huge, scattered complex.” Look at another passage (abridged by me in the following paragraph) from the History of Buddhism in India, written by another Tibetan monk and scholar, Taranatha, in the
“During the consecration of the temple built by Kakutsiddha at Nalendra [Nalanda] the young naughty sramanas threw slops at the two Tirthika beggars and kept them pressed inside door panels and set ferocious dogs on them”. Angered by this, one of them went on arranging for their livelihood and the other sat in a deep pit and “engaged himself in surya sadhana” [solar worship], first for nine years and then for three more years and having thus “acquired mantrasiddhi”, he “performed a sacrifice and scattered the charmed ashes all around”, which “immediately resulted in a miraculously produced fire”, consuming all the 84 temples and the scriptures, some of continued…