When Does History Begin?: Religion, Narrative, and Identity in the Sikh Tradition
Indian historiographical praxis has long been problematic. Al-Biruni, the eleventh-century polymath, was puzzled by how people in the subcontinent treated the protocols of history, not seeing that Indian narratives of the past, embedded in kavya traditions, represented a radical departure from historical narratives in the Islamic, Sinic, and Greco-Roman worlds. Where others tended to search for “facts”, people in South Asia looked for “affect”. This alternative for comprehending and evaluating the past – through aesthetics and gradients of taste – generated a different variety of historical consciousness. Focusing on important issues in Sikh religious identity and memory, Harjot Oberoi shows what modern critical narrative achieves when it moves away from classical models of historiography. His examination of the Sikh tradition traverses significant moments in colonialism, encounters with modernity, coercion and protest in the Raj, the production of knowledge, the rise of secular nationalism, and modern notions of the self within and outside India. This book on the variousness of truth-telling practices, ideas of the sacred, and sentiment-laden presuppositions asks us to look afresh at the writing of history – centrally in India, but also across the world.