Assistant Professor of History Dr Ruchika S-

The discipline of History, in India, especially, is one rife with contestations and contradictions. However, it is also a subject that requires rigorous study and development, as it is a crucial aspect of understanding our past.

History has, through the ages, been used as a tool for nation-building, unifying our population, and shaping the idea of our civilisational identity. Evidence for this can be found throughout our history, with the kings of the Gupta Empire consciously emulating the Maurya Empire, to Dr Ambedkar recalling Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas to make the case for a Parliamentary Democracy in India in one of his famous Constituent Assembly addresses.    

However, the subject is also susceptible to people’s confirmation biases – which results in oversimplifications, misconceptions and misinformation. The emergence of “pop history” not only gave such misconceptions a platform but also compounded them – thus distorting its readers’ perception of history. 

For example, the theory that the Taj Mahal was originally a temple of Lord Shiva, which was demolished by Shah Jahan remains popular despite the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) declaring otherwise in 2018.  

These misconceptions become even more dangerous than they already are when they are used by people, communities, institutions, and governments to spread an idea of their superiority and establish their hegemony – and anyone who challenges these preconceived notions is attacked viciously. 

For instance, the 2009 book The Hindus: An Alternative History by American Indologist Wendy Doinger was pulled out of the Indian market by Penguin India, its publisher for 20 months in February 2014 after being attacked by Hindu Nationalist groups for being offensive to Hindus.  

None would attest to this better than Dr Ruchika Sharma does. An Assistant Professor of History, Dr Ruchika holds a PhD in History from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. 

She is, perhaps, most known for her YouTube channel Eyeshadow & Etihaas, where she uploads informative videos about Indian history, debunking one misconception at a time. Her channel has 8.38K subscribers, and her recent video debunking the myths about the ancient Nalanda University has become her second most viewed video, with 12k views. 

Here are excerpts from her conversation with EdexLive:


Why did you want to study history and what are your areas of interest?

I chose to study history because I have been in love with the subject since Class VIII.

We had a fantastic history teacher in our school who encouraged us to study history from multiple books and perspectives, it was initially challenging since school kids in India are so used to reading and mugging up just one book. But when I did start reading history from different books I realised how fascinating the subject is. There was no looking back after that, my love for history has only grown since then. 

My research interests lie in the architectural history of medieval India, my doctoral thesis looks at urban spaces in medieval Mandu, Madhya Pradesh and my MPhil dissertation looks at architectural reuse in medieval Bijapur, Karnataka. But lately, I have also become really interested in gender in Indian history.


What prompted you to start your YouTube channel, Eyeshadow & Etihaas with Dr. Ruchika Sharma? When did you decide that you had to create educational videos on the history of the Indian subcontinent?

Eyeshadow & Etihaas was an idea suggested by one of my students who thought it would be fun to talk about history while doing eye makeup. The idea clicked and I uploaded my first video on April 30, 2022. 

The videos were initially in English as my education has been in English throughout, but switching to Hindi was important to reach a wider audience. It was difficult, but I have now been doing videos in Hindi for over six months and I think I’ve got a hang of it. 

For me, Eyeshadow & Etihaas serves the dual purpose of being a personal revolution and hopefully, a social revolution. I started Eyeshadow & Etihaas during a very dark time in my life, and the channel really helped me get out of it, made me more confident and sure of myself, and greatly improved my mental health. It is also aimed at opening copious amounts of academic history to the public at large. 

Academia tends to become an echo chamber; a journal paper will only be read by barely 100 people. This lack of academic history in the public sphere has allowed many non-historians to make false claims about our history with no source.

These claims are leading to a deep polarisation in Indian society which is dangerous, to say the least. Eyeshadow & Etihaas aims to fill that gap, where source-based academic history is presented to people, sources are provided in the description box of every episode of Eyeshadow & Etihaas

Lastly, through myth-busting and bringing academic history to the fore, the effort is also to make history more interesting, it is often looked at as uninteresting and I think faulty teaching is to be blamed for it.


What do you keep in mind to make your videos (and history in general) engaging and interesting for students?

One of the biggest misconceptions of history is that it is unrelated to the present, it is a thing of the past and has no bearing on who we are today. This is not only grossly wrong but this is also the key to making any subject interesting. 

In fact, according to me, all education should equip students to make sense of the world around them. This is what history does too, through my videos and during my classes, I aim to bring out the ways in which present-day contestations and claims can be explained/understood by contextualising them in history, for example, the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the language you speak, the gender stereotypes, the caste discrimination, all have a historical context. Not only does this make history more interesting and relevant it also helps one get a deeper understanding of caste, gender, and religious claims that exist today. 

The other way is by narrating history in a simple, conversational style without diluting its complexity. History is deeply layered and it is not always easy to bring out all the layers in 15 minutes, hence my videos often tend to stretch for longer. Simplicity that incorporates complexity is key! 

Lastly, humour is important to break the monotony of any classroom, YouTube or otherwise. Plus, one should know how to laugh at the past in order to live in the present.


How do you plan and select the topics of your videos? Are they preplanned or topical and spontaneous?

A lot of my videos are voted on by subscribers of Eyeshadow & Etihaas. I give them four options to choose from. These four options are selected by me depending upon what part of history is currently being contested, or at times, what part of history I really want to talk about in the upcoming week. The topic that gets voted on the most is taken. 

There are exceptions to this, sometimes I would work on a video simply because it is widely requested by subscribers, like the one on Nalanda and its myths. And of course, at times it is spontaneous because some bit of history is being discussed in the news and there are many false claims and I feel it is important to inject that much-needed dose of academic history.


What exactly does studying, documenting, and establishing history involve? How do historians in the present study events that happened in the past?

Answering this question will probably require an entire historical methodology course, but a huge part of historical research is formulating research questions and sifting your sources for them. All good historical research starts from this, any research that forms a conclusion first and then works backwards to look for sources that ratify that conclusion is just bad research.

With sources, it is key to critically analyse them, who wrote it/inscribed it, when was it written, who was it written for, and what’s written in the source (language skills come in handy here; for example, I can read and write in Persian) and even what is not written in the source. 

Analysing all the facts one gathers from their sources then requires further enquiry using various historical methodologies. The only one that most know is often misnomered as Left/Leftist history, which people often mix with the left-of-centre ideology. Historical materialism is just one of the many methodologies in history and every historian is taught many historical methodologies like micro-history, Annales school and so on and so forth. 

In many instances, these conclusions point out gaps for further research, especially for periods that are less documented, although archaeology is now trying to bridge that gap very well. 

This is more or less the summary of how historical research is conducted. Historical methodology courses are important here. In fact, schools must introduce a historical methodology course too, since we have courses on mathematical and scientific methodology in schools already.


Historians and history textbooks have always been accused of focusing on just the Mughal Empire – which further extends to accusations of “whitewashing” or “glorifying” so-called “Muslim rule” in India. How valid is that accusation? 

There are two sides to this accusation.

One is the North Indian bias of Indian history which certainly exists and needs to be done away with. This North Indian bias means that a fair share of Indian history will talk of historical events in the north of Vindhyas way more than the South, which has been the case, from Indus Valley to the Steppe Pastoralists in the Gangetic plains to Magadha to Ashoka, the Guptas, the Empire of Harsha and the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughals – these take up a large share of Indian history in schools textbooks. This needs to be remedied. 

In fact, I chose to study the histories of Malwa (Western India) and Bijapur (Karnataka) for my PhD and MPhil, respectively, not just as an attempt to break the North Indian bias but also because these areas are still so under-researched. 

Second, the Mughals are indeed a special case, since their empire was unprecedented in its size and documentation in Indian history. Aurangzeb’s reign had the maximum territorial extent ever achieved by any subcontinental ruler, and a lot of this empire stood tall on the meticulous documentation that existed – farmans, revenue records, population estimates, crop yield records, and legal case records are all forms of extensive documentation of the Mughal reign. Historian Jadunath Sarkar labelled the empire as “Kagazi Raj” owing to its intimidating paper documentation. 

This is also the reason why so much research is possible on the Mughals. Their sources are many – not just on paper, but also on canvas (paintings), and in stone (their monuments). These are historical records of their own and left a legacy, which was used not just by the colonial rule in their architecture and mannerisms but also by Marathas.

For example, Jankoji Rao, a Maharashtra Scindia ruler, upon becoming king in 1833 asked Akbar Shah II, the Mughal emperor of that time for a khilat, which is a royal robe imbued with the Mughal Emperor’s benediction and receiving that was considered high honour. So even in the 19th century, the Mughals were sought after for their legacy. 

Mughals also continue to have a huge impact on what we eat, what we wear, and what we speak today. All these prove that the Mughals are a bit of an outlier in Indian history, as nothing else has had that level of documentation or impact on Indian history.

But I disagree that there has been a glorification or whitewashing of the Mughals. How can there be? Pop history has made Aurangzeb the Number One historical villain today. The British made him a “khalnayak” and it has sadly stayed that way ever since.

Lastly, the idea of a “Muslim” rule in Indian history is problematic. It would imply that Islam had a huge role to play in the policies of the rulers that ruled India, which is incorrect. Another favourite villain of Indian pop history, Alauddin Khalj, was blamed by Qazi Mughisuddin for not following the Sharia (Islamic law) and he replied that he does what he thinks is politically expedient. Islam wasn’t a policy maker for these rulers at all.


That said, there has been an attempt to highlight the histories of kingdoms in other parts of India – especially down South, with a renewed emphasis on the Deccan. How beneficial are these perspectives to students of history, and the understanding of history in general?

Oh, there has been plenty of research about the Deccan, the Bahmani, and the Vijayanagar. 

In fact, the most fascinating archaeological project of our times, which only few are aware of, has been about the Vijayanagara Kingdom – the Vijayanagara Metropolitan Survey (VMS). Many papers have been produced from this brilliant exercise. 

For example, we now understand the decline of the kingdom a lot better than we did earlier. We thought of it as a sudden collapse following the Talikota War (Battle of Rakshasi Tangdi), but it lived on throughout three new kingdoms. We had nationalist historians giving the battle a communal twist. However, surveys of temples in Talikota revealed that very little harm came to them, and only those patronised by the Vijayanagara kings were destroyed. There was no visible harm to the Shiva temples, but only to temples in the kingdom of the Vaishnavite Rama Raya. The destruction was, therefore, political in nature and not religious.

Not only do such studies throw more light on histories South of the Vindhyas, but they also bring in new perspectives of history which are helpful in combating the Colonial binaries of Indian History, that is, the binaries of Hindu-Muslim. 

The history of our subcontinent is also several thousands of years old, and it is not possible to uncover every possible event that happened – so what should we study to understand how India, as we know it today, has come to be?

We have managed to uncover a lot from India’s 4,000 years of history, starting with the Indus Valley Civilisation. In fact, thanks to archaeology, we were also able to understand the histories of regions such as Mehrgarh and Mundigak, which were precursors to the Indus Valley cities. 

In order to know our history, I would strongly encourage everyone to read historians and history experts, just like I would advise people to read biologists for biology, an astrophysicist for astrophysics, and so on. 

Many non-historians have written on history – which has done more damage to how history is perceived in India today than what the Colonial historians could have done. Whatever piece of history you come across, start asking for and finding its source.

I think that this cannot happen till we teach students in schools what sources are – what a primary source is, what a secondary source is, how they are analysed, and so on. 

This is in no way a promotion (of myself), but watching historians on YouTube is a good way of learning about history too!


Now, the “saffronisation” of Indian textbooks has been an aspect of worry for many historians. But the current government says that there is nothing wrong with it and that it is an important exercise to “get rid of Macaulay’s legacy.” Does Indian history still have a “colonial hangover”, so to speak? What is your take on the entire “saffronisation” debate?

Yes, India’s pop history to date has a huge colonial hangover, and saffronisation is the result of it. 

India’s academic history, thanks to stalwarts like Prof Romila Thapar, Prof Irfan Habib, and others, was able to break away from the Colonial binaries of Hindu and Muslim. But the popular narrative of Indian History is still deep in this mould. 

The idea of dividing everything into religious binaries of “Hindu” and “Muslim” was first done by the British when they started documenting our history – architecture, texts, kings, and more were neatly categorised under “Hindu” and “Muslim”.  

This was a deeply superficial way of looking at history because it erased all complexities of Indian history and made it look as if religion was the only governing factor of Indian history – which was obviously not the case. 

The saffronisation of history takes this even further and wants to explore the “glorious Hindu history of India”. The project is, therefore, deeply Colonial because it continues to divide everything into Hindu and non-Hindu – which for them is Muslim. Then, everything in Indian history which was not Hindu is villainous and harmful, and everything that is Hindu is great and glorious. 

It is a disturbingly simplistic reading of Indian history. Plurality and acculturation have been hallmarks of Indian History, and anything that ignores or erases this fact amounts to effectively falsifying Indian history and is continuing the Colonial project of reducing Indian history to mere binaries. 

In fact, Eyeshadow & Etihaas is an attempt to remove that colonial hangover in the popular perception of Indian history.


There is another belief that the way history has been taught in schools and colleges does not make students aware of the “greatness of our past” or invoke patriotic pride. Where does this belief come from? Should history invoke pride in our past at all?

The idea of exaggerating our past glory first came up during the anti-colonial struggle. It was the need of the hour then, since Indians had been told for centuries by the British that we have an inferior past and that the British were therefore helping us become “civilised”. 

So, when Indians themselves started reading their histories, they exaggerated it to invoke our past’s glory. For example, the Gupta Age was incorrectly labelled the “Golden Age” of Indian History, and the naval strength of the Cholas was blown out of proportion. 

The problem emerged when this trend did not stop after we achieved Independence, and continued to glorify our past. This is not necessary to feel proud of India’s past. Indian history has seen good times and dark times as well – all of it is our history. We don’t need to whitewash or overtly explain our history; we don’t need to label some parts of our history as “golden”. 

That, however, doesn’t mean that our history isn’t unique. In terms of its plurality, its extent, its complexities, and the gamut of people who have traversed through our land starting with the Steppe pastoralists in 1500 BCE – our history is extremely interesting and colourful. 


School textbooks do not need to herald kings as great or periods as golden. The uniqueness of India’s history is where our pride should be. As long as textbooks are highlighting that I think we are good.


Why is there so much contention and disinformation about our history? How does a student (or anyone in general) keep themselves informed? 

Histories are contested in every nation, and many contestations of history are helpful. 

For example, contesting the history of how the American nation came to be, was a good exercise since it highlighted the history of the people who lived in the Americas before the Spaniards came.

So, the contestation of history is not always a bad thing. Multiple histories exist, more so for India where there are so many communities that have been living on this land for a long time. What is worrisome is the way in which such contestations sometimes occur in India.

For example, there is this idea that a community can show its history as great only by bringing down the history of another community. 

But even more worrisome is the disinformation that often accompanies such contestations. Disinformation in Indian history stems from not having a historical methodologies course in school, which could help students understand how history is studied, what sources are, and how they are analysed. 

So much misinformation in Indian history will simply evaporate if people start asking for sources for historical claims. And of course, I cannot stress the importance of reading historians to understand history.


What does the future of studying and researching history in India look like currently? 

Not too bad, but it could be a lot better. 

History in schools is taught abysmally, as just an exercise of memory and not something that has a cause and effect that needs to be understood, not mugged. That translates to students losing interest in it and never opting for it. 

In addition, there is always this prestige factor associated with taking Science after their Class X Board exams. The idea that your marks will decide your aptitude in subjects for higher studies is quite a scary idea – even I had to battle that. 

When I scored 94 per cent on the Class X Board exam, I was badgered by both my family and friends to opt for science. I had to put my foot down because I absolutely loved history. So, my mother allowed it only if I took Mathematics as an additional subject. I had to study six subjects in my Class XI and XII while others studied five. 

No harm was done here, but I still feel like I shouldn’t have had this burden just to study the subject I wanted to study. I believe there are many students like me, who are dissuaded from studying history because it is not considered smart enough, or fancy enough. This is another thing I hope to change through Eyeshadow & Etihaas, make history more interesting, and make people love the subject like I have now been doing for over a decade. 

I have high hopes for this subject in the future. I am confident that more students will choose to study history. However, not having enough jobs for history students is another drawback, since education in India is so job-oriented.


Being outspoken on the internet, especially as a woman attracts trolls. How bad does the trolling and backlash that you receive get? How do you handle them?

It gets as bad as it can get. I receive misogyny, and then there are religious slurs, and there is also body shaming. Trolls shame me for my gorgeous eye makeup too!

The only way to handle all this is to not handle any of it; I don’t take any of this personally at all. I know for a fact that all this trolling is mere projection and has nothing to do with me. 

Of course, it isn’t easy and I won’t pretend that it doesn’t make me feel bad. I do at times, but I recover quickly when I realise that none of the trolling is an actual assessment of who I really am, since none of them know me personally. 

The most important bit is to not let any of this trolling affect how I work. Of course, this has been a process and my mental health was not even half as good as it is now last year. The trolling barely bothers me now. 

I think that having a healthy self-image and being kind and loving to yourself is really a game changer, irrespective of whether you are battling trolls or not. Let this be my signature line for the interview! 


Dr Ruchika Sharma’s YouTube channel, Eyeshadow & Etihaas, can be found here.

Leave a Comment