Fossils, remains and leftovers buried deep into the belly of our planet hold secrets and treasures under lock and key. Sometimes the keys get misplaced or the locks happen to be too hidden. Finding a key or a lock may at times be comparatively easier than identifying the right key for an individual lock. When an identified key does not fit into the existing lock, it terribly complicates the already stupendous and perplexing task. And, one has to return back to the square one to resume the whole drill of step-by-step identification and the intricate process of matching. The task is arduous and very frustrating or at least it was so before the modern scientific tools were freely available. Even when you succeed in identifying the lock and the corresponding, precisely matching, key still there are chances that you may be puzzled or become even more frustrated when you open the lock of the so called ‘buried treasure’ containing history. You will be surprised more often than not, to find the one or the other component of the “cause and effect” sequence missing. It takes huge amounts of intellectual labor and physical labor also, to assess these artifacts of history and then put them into proper perspective. The artifacts, however, don’t tell us the stories that they carry. They only give us the ‘cues’. The proper interpretation of these ‘cues’ is not always as easy as one might think. It is one of the biggest challenges posed by the history.
‘Genuine history’ wants us to read and then decipher the ‘Book of Nature’ by arranging different cues in places where they belong in gaps and empty spaces. The gaps left in the ‘book of nature’ are to be filled by us and invariably we fill in these blanks by juxtaposing our present perspective to the perspective of the past. We want to read and interpret the history, the way we would like to read and understand a text written or printed in particular symbols. In thinking and doing so, we tend to impose our standards to our ancestors’ stories. We want to tell them: Show us something you have put down on paper; we would like to read and know about you! But then, the truth is that they lived and behaved in an entirely different world of their own paradigms. We tend to forget that reality. True, they would talk and communicate most of the time because that would serve their purpose perfectly. Theirs was, after all, a world of ‘oral history’. They lived in a world when only the ‘word of mouth’ mattered; telling and retelling the same story through different versions was an accepted and even favored practice. In their own world they had their own priorities which obviously override our priorities. And, why shouldn’t they? Why would they waste their time by engaging themselves in writing? Obviously and simply they, in their right mind, would resist such a temptation that was in their opinion nothing but a mere wastage of time. But then, human temptations are temptations after all; they refuse to die so easily! The temptation to scribble did ultimately compel them to succumb to its pressure. The human mind is a silly monkey. It jumps and jumps all the time from one thought to another. It creates restlessness, frustration, curiosity and what not! It pulls and pushes. It spurs the hands of the humans to try touching the unknown. It goads one to do what it contemplates. How long could human being resist the urge of experimenting with the unknown? Consequently he was drawn to caves, to stones and to rocks. And here, this curious creature, the human being, started scribbling. And scribble he did, initially vague but then well-defined figures and pictures! Thus the art, as we call it, was born.
With this primitive art in place we now have ‘clues’ rather than ‘cues’. Fossils tell a bland story, though, but these figures and pictures do add some quaint punch-lines to these bland stories. With this, the second era of the ‘genuine history’ thus came into being. Precisely here the ‘genuine history’ could no longer remain impenetrable to other influences. Now the elements of the ‘sacred history’ started creeping into it. The ‘history’ became an inseparable interplay of the two histories; undercurrents determined the surface events. The religious fantasy began showing its head, albeit not fully-fledged, but as something already buried deep inside the collective human subconscious. That doesn’t mean in any way that religion had not existed hitherto. It surely had. But what had changed was the depiction of the religion in the form of art or stories. “Religion in itself is the story of faith”, claims Reza Aslan, a prominent American scholar of Iranian descent. He is right. In his masterpiece book, Aslan takes a step further to elaborate on the theme in his unique, penetrative style, “Sacred history has no concern for the boundaries of time and space”. In that case it is a two dimensional record of the world of mind with all its fantasies and imaginative pictures. In other words, the ‘sacred history’ is the story of a story.
Scholars unanimously concur on the premise that the religious impulse has been phenomenally inseparable from human existence. It has deep-reaching roots within the psyche of the Paleolithic civilization. The historians divide Paleolithic age into 3 segments: 2.5 million years to 200,000 years ago period; 200,000 to 40,000 years ago period and 40,000 to 10,000 year ago period. ‘Sacred history’ had been happening all along with the ‘genuine history’ but the recorded ‘sacred history’ can be traced only to 2nd period of the Paleolithic era (200,000 to 40,000 yrs ago) in the form of cave paintings which have been shielded by the planet earth deep within its bosom and thus fairly preserved and protected from the ravages of nature. This ‘sacred history’, now in a two-dimensional shape, in the caves and on the rocks, leads us to understand the belief system governing the earliest human civilization. Scholars interpret that these early human civilizations believed in a three tiered cosmos. In this system of cosmology, consisting of the earth and the underground world, the earth, however, was the central entity. The underground world beneath the crust of earth had gained as much importance as the skies.
The belief, that there exists a vibrant underground world, must have played a critical and important as well as experimental role in the life of the humans, so much as, they would place the dead bodies of humans deep inside it (in the underground world). Otherwise, why would humans bury the dead, when there was so much of vast and empty planet around him? It was far obvious to throw the dead over a mountain or into an open space to let them decay or be devoured by scavenger birds or animals. But no, they would not do that! A sense of respect had developed towards other fellow human beings, which dictated to honor the dead in some way or other, at least not to allow their friends’ and fellows’ bodies to be devoured by other creatures.
Allowing that would amount to cruelty. So, something was there, deep inside the imaginative and abstractly thinking mind which would spur this social animal to look for unusual way-outs. The quest for the unknown and the unusual, probably goaded the human civilization on a path that ultimately led to the appearance of the formal religion, aided along its way by the ‘sacred history’.
In the book of nature there are pages, though, wherein we come into a contact almost closely with the subject of the ‘sacred history’. They can tell stories about the story of faith. These pages are the caves which are scattered across Europe, Asia and Australia. The Kapova cave in Ural, Russia; the Cuciulat cave in Romania; the caves along Lena river valley in Siberia; El Castillo cave in Spain; Font de Gaume and Le Combarelles caves in Vezere valley in France and also Chauvet; Lascaux and the most important of all, the Volp in the foothills of Pyrenees are the caves that display fairly rich wealth of information about our ancestors’ quest for the meaning of life – the quest which has never allowed the human species to be content with what they already possessed, almost in abundance, in order to live a complacent life like their fellows from the animal kingdom.
Author is Cancer Surgeon and President JK Unity Convention