The Mother of Indian History-Writing: The Bible

Bhudev Mukhopadhyay (1827-94) was the first Indian to write a history of India. He called it “India’s History Revealed in a Dream.”

He was an educated man, a teacher who went on to become a Class I “Inspector of Schools.” Until then that position had been occupied only by Englishmen. Other educated Bengalis found it a little difficult to accept an idealized “dream” as “history.”

Since no Indian had been writing “history,” the word “Itihas” used to mean “myths,” that is, epics such as Ramayan and Mahabharat. Bhudev’s attempt to dream-up “history” indicated that the Bible had begun to change India.

Educated Bengalis embarrassed by Bhudev’s dreamt-up history began to feel that if “Itihas” has to mean “history,” then India will need to embark on a quest for truth. History must research observed facts. At least, its conclusions must be “reasonable,” backed by evidence, not imagined.

As early as AD 1148, Kalhana, a Kashmiri Brahmin, had composed a Sanskrit poem called Rajatarangini, or “River of Kings.” It fused tit-bits of historical information with myths, legends and poetic imagination. Today, some call his poem “history”, but for centuries no one taught it as history. That subject did not attract Sanskrit students. No one translated or printed it: printing didn’t exist. Kalhana saw himself as a Brahmin, not an “Indian.”

The first foreigner to write a “history” of India was an Iranian Muslim polymath, Al-Biruni (approx. 973-1050). He came to India with Mahmud of Gazni — the Afghan invader — but stayed on for over a decade. He learnt Sanskrit and Indian culture, especially astrology. He wrote in Arabic and some in Persian, but no one printed his “history.” No Pundit took any interest in improving his research or teaching it as a text on Indian history.

Bhudev Mukhopadhyay wrote his “Dream” of Indian history as a reaction to James Mills’ “The History of British India.” Mill wrote it between 1806-1817.

Unlike Al-Biruni, Mill never visited India; nor did he study any Indian language. Since Indian were not writing their own history and Mill’s book was about “British India,” he felt justified in gathering his material from sources available in Britain.

James infuriated educated Indians because he attacked Indian character, religion, literature, arts and laws that appeared immoral in the light of his philosophy called Utilitarianism — “the greatest good of great numbers.” Utilitarians believed that a religious culture that sacrifices children, burns widows, and oppresses women and lower castes was “barbaric” because it was not good for the majority.

The philosophy of Utilitarianism had been pioneered by Jeremy Bentham. It attempted to define good and evil in the light of human reason, instead of divine revelation. One result of every humanistic ethics is to rule out the possibility that God may love sinners enough to come to this earth to save them and make them righteous. Rejecting the possibility of God’s redemptive intervention in a sinful world left James, and later his son, John Stuart Mill, with no option but to justify colonialism or “Benevolent dictatorship” over “Barbarians.” Both the Mills, the father and the son, held influential positions in the East India Company. John Mills book, “On Liberty” was extremely popular among secular humanists. Sadly, British humanists accepted the idea that barbarians needed colonialism, not liberty.

The worldview that argued for India’s freedom came from the Bible. Charles Grant was a self-confessed sinner who “converted” in Bengal before returning to England. Support of evangelical politicians such a William Wilberforce and bankers made it possible for him to become the Director of the East India Company and a Member of Parliament. He was the first to champion the idea that God was able to reform India.

Grant wrote his “Observations” in 1792. In 1812, while James Mill was still working on his “History of British India” the Parliament ordered Grant’s Observations on India to be published as a State Paper. The Bible inspired hope for a reformed, educated and liberated India because of its peculiar idea that the human beings were not created to be slaves but to govern the earth. Human beings create culture and shape history because they bear the image the God who is free and transcends the cosmos.

In my 1997 book, “India: The Grand Experiment” I referred to the worldview conflict between British Evangelicals who had hope for India and the secular pessimists (such as governor Thomas Munro) who did not believe that a Savior had come who could transform Indian character. This aspect of Indo-British history needs a PhD level research. In his highly acclaimed paper “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy,” (available online) Robert Woodberry has amassed massive evidence that “Liberal Democracy” has “worked” only in those non-Western countries that welcomed “conversionary” Christianity. We need a researcher who will dig into this controversy and examine the role the Bible’s worldview played in preparing India for freedom.

On Thursday May 20, at 9 pm Indian Standard Time (8:30 am Pacific Time) Indian scholars will zoom together to begin compiling a list a history books that we need to read as we build up our team to write “How The Bible Created Modern India.” With your help, we would like to publish our book to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence on 15 August 2022.


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David Marshall

Dr. David Marshall is an educator who has taught in America, China, Japan and Taiwan. He has lectured in many countries, and often writes at The Stream.David Marshall returned to Seattle from teaching Chinese students how to do research in January 2020, and was then stranded by Covid.After riots broke out in late spring, he wrote an ebook entitled “Letter to a ‘Racist’ Nation, explaining the Woke movement from the perspectives of culture, education, and religious history, with added background supplied by his 40-year police veteran older brother, Steve Marshall.


Vishal Mangalwadi

Prof. Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi studied philosophy in Indian universities, Hindu Ashrams and L’abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Along with his wife, Ruth, he founded a community to serve the rural poor in central India and organized lower castes as a political force. Several of Vishal’s 21 books have been translated into 16 languages. Six of them have been taught at university level. William Carey International University honored him as a Legum Doctor. From 2014-16, he served as an Honorary Professor of Applied Theology at the Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences in Allahabad (UP) India. Vishal and Ruth have two daughters and six grandchildren.