Kosambi Festival of Ideas

Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi (1907- 1966) embodied the quintessential Indian Renaissance man that came into its own in the immediate years after independence.

He was a polyglot- an accomplished mathematician and a self- trained historian. He was well trained in Sanskrit and had a very good knowledge of Buddhism acquired from his father, a noted Buddhist scholar of his times. Educated in the United States, he returned to India not only to make contributions to mathematics but, above all, lay the basis of the current historiography of ancient India.

His orientation was firmly Marxist, and his works are a very good example of how the Marxist method can be used to give surprisingly innovative results. Many of his formulations have been proven incorrect by subsequent researches, but anyone reading his works even today cannot be but impressed not only by the wide scholarship and fascinating field work that he carried out, but also illuminating insights.

His deeply humanistic streak that still inspires many to read his works is best reflected in his own words.

“The subtle mystic philosophies, torturous religions, ornate literature, monuments teeming with intricate sculpture and delicate music of India all derive from the same historical process that produced the famished apathy of the villager, senseless opportunism and termite greed of the ‘cultured’ strata, sullen, uncoordinated discontent among the workers, general demoralization, misery, squalor and degrading superstition. The one is the result of the other, one is the expression of the other…it is necessary to understand that history is not a sequence of haphazard events but is made by human beings in the satisfaction of daily needs.”

The DD Kosambi Festivals of Ideas being celebrated in Goa right now was inaugurated by Vice President MH Ansari on 5th February. P Sainath delivered a lecture on the 6th and Romila Thapar, who can easily be considered his most deserving succesor (along possibly with RS Sharma), had a talk yesterday. The events are being covered at the DD Kosambi blog. A news video there covers the speeches of Vice President Ansari and Dr. Meera Kosambi, DD Kosambi’s sociologist daughter.
For anyone who at any time has bathed in that suffusing glow of enlightenment when reading any of Kosambi’s works, reading and watching (the video) of the tributes to him, would be both nostalgic and re- assuring.

(A short biographical note appears here, as well as some of his other writings.)

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Author: bhupinder singh

an occasional blogger

4 thoughts on “Kosambi Festival of Ideas”

  1. Marxism whatever may be its faults does provide those who grapple with its analytical methods with a very critical mind. Kosambi revolutionised historiography in India. Reading his books on ancient Indian history has definitely been an important stepping stone to becoming an atheist

  2. its a long story. but here are some of the questions about marxism that i have in my mind and which can be debated –

    Points for a debate on Marxism

    1. Philosophy –
    – the validity of the method of dialectics – whether it really adds anything to political thinking
    – the narrow definition of materialism – in the light of advances in modern physics

    2. History –
    – Whether it is only a history of class struggles
    – linear conception of history – precap – cap – socialism- communism. the inevitability of revolution.

    3. Social theory –
    – The rigidness of the concept of class in modern society
    – the progressive character of the proletariat as compared to the other sections of society.
    – other revolutions took place when the revolutionary class was already in possession of economic power and it only had to usurp political power. for the proletarian revolution it is the other way round – seize political power and then change the economic relations of production.
    – alienation of workers
    – non-european cultures and marxism

    4. Economic theory –
    – law of value – whether only labour is the creator of value
    – the role of technology and industry – is the problem of production really solved.
    – the non-incorporation of environmental effects of of industrial development
    – problems with abolition of private property and state ownership of means of production
    – intermingling of different modes of production
    – market and command mechanisms of resource allocation and distribution

    5. Political theory –
    – the role of the vanguard party and centralised leadership
    – democracy versus dictatorship
    – the compulsions of revolutionary practice have the seeds of later degeneration in them
    – decentralisation versus centralisation

  3. Wow, Rahul! That’s quite comprehensive, wonder how you missed culture 🙂
    How about taking up some of these specifically when you get some time? Perhaps the one on dialectics would be agood one to start with.

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