Indian History Carnival-78:Bom Jesus, Guruvayoor, Deccani paintings, P N Oak

Guruvayoorappan's Elephants at Punnathoor Kotta

Guruvayoorappan’s Elephants at Punnathoor Kotta (photograph by author)

  1. Maddy has the fascinating tale of Bom Jesus, which left Portugal in 1533 with 18 tons of Fugger’s copper, 4 tons of tin, elephant tusks, gold and silver. The ship went missing and was discovered 475 years later.

    The Nau Bom Jesus was one among them and all of 400 or so tons in displacement. That the Portuguese knew how to build sturdy ships is clear, but you must also understand that the life of such a ship was not more than four or five years. Usage of nails, galagala caulking, lead in the seams, and a final black coat of pine tar from Germany gave these ships a sinister look. The heavy guns and cannons they carried for defense made them difficult to confront. The crew comprised a captain major, a deputy, a captain, a record keeping clerk (the royal agent – like our Barros or Carrera), a pilot and a deputy pilot. Then came the master, the boatswain, ships boys, pages and the sailors or seamen. We can also see chaplains, German bombardiers, stewards, specialist technicians like carpenters, caulkers and barber surgeons in this group.

  2. The Calicut Heritage Forum discusses the origins of the Elephant Race at Guruvyaoor Temple

    There was once some misunderstanding between the authorities of the two temples and Trikkanamathilakam temple authorities wanted to teach the smaller Guruvayur temple a lesson by not sending the elephants for the festival. The elephants were tethered at the Trikkanamathilakam temple after the festival there.  Apparently, the elephants managed to break the iron chains at night and ran all the way to Guruvayur temple, with their bells clanging and reached the temple well before the time for the ezhunnallathu  (the ceremonial procession of the deity).

  3. The Asian and African studies blog has a post containing Deccani paintings from the 17th  century onwards

    Kurnool, some 120 miles south of Hyderabad, became in the 18th century semi-independent under its own Pathan Nawabs. It was captured by Haidar ‘Ali of Mysore, and in 1799 was given to the Nizam at the division of Tipu Sultan’s territory. It was ceded by him to the East India Company in 1800, although the Nawabs were left in charge in return for a tribute to Madras. The last of them was judged guilty of treasonable activity in 1838 and the territory was annexed, although left in the charge of a British Commissioner and Agent until 1858 rather than under the normal Collector and Magistrate of British India. The arts flourished under the Nawabs and an offshoot of the Hyderabad style of painting can be located there (Zebrowski 1983, pp. 272-3). In the 19th century Kurnool produced paintings on leather of both Hindu and decorative subjects, but this painting by Kurnool artist would seem to be a rare instance of a Deccani ‘Company’ painting. The artist has combined a delicate Deccani approach to landscape with the more naturalistic traditions associated with European portraiture.

  4. Koenraad Elst takes to task those who think that Vatican was originally a Shiva temple and has other miscellaneous crazy ideas.

    In fact, the shape of the church is standard, and therefore the claim implies that most classical churches, thousands of them, are really shaped like Shiva Lingams. If your eyes are very hazy, you might indeed get the impression of a similarity. This school is quickly satisfied with a mere semblance of similarity. Thus, a 3-shaped sign in the undeciphered Indus script is declared to be Om/Aum sign; as is a door ornament on the Red Fort, equally deemed to have been “originally a Hindu temple”. But even if a more perceptive look were to confirm this impression of similarity, it doesn’t prove a causal relation. The likeness between vatika and Vatican is claimed to “prove that the Vatican was a Hindu (Vedic) religious centre before its incumbent was forced to accept Christianity from 1st century AD”. No, this phrase merely shows the miserably low standards of proof applied by the Hindu history-rewriters. Also, no evidence is attempted, or known from elsewhere, for the momentous replacement or forcible conversion of this Vedic pontiff.

The 79th carnival will be up on Independence day. If you have any nominations, please leave a comment.

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In Pragati: Book Review of A Passage to Infinity by George Gheverghese Joseph

An important problem in historiography is the politics of recognition. Which theory gets recognized and which doesn’t sometimes depends on who is saying it rather than what is right. Take for example, the Aryan Invasion Theory. Historians like A L Basham wrote convincingly about it and it was the widely accepted fact. Over a period of time, the invasion theory fell apart; the skeletons, which were touted as evidence for the invasion, were found to belong to different cultural phases thus nullifying the theory of a major battle. Due to all this, historians like Upinder Singh categorically state that the Harappan civilization was not destroyed by an Indo-Aryan invasion. But  the Aryan Invasion Theory is still being taught in Western Universities and those who question it are ridiculed. In this atmosphere if any academic dares to support the Out of India Theory, that could be a career-limiting move.

Eurocentric historiography has affected not just Indian political history, but the history of sciences as well. Indigenous achievements have not got the recognition it deserved; when great achievements were discovered, there have been attempts to explain it using a Western influence. In 1873 Sedillot wrote that Indian science was indebted to Europe and Indian numbers were an abbreviated form of Roman numbers. Half a century before that Bentley rewrote the dates for various Indian mathematicians, pushing them to much later and blamed the Brahmins for fabricating false dates. Some of these historians were willing to acknowledge that there were some great mathematicians till the time of Bhaskara, but none after that and without the introduction of Western Civilisation, India would have stagnated mathematically.

George Gheverghese Joseph disputes that with facts and goes into the indigenous origins of the Kerala School of Mathematics which flourished from the 14th century starting with Madhava of Sangamagrama and ending with Sankar Varman around 1840s. Though there were few mathematicians in Kerala in the 9th, 12th and 13th centuries, what is today called the Kerala School started with Madhava who came from near modern day Irinjalakuda. His achievements were phenomenal; they included calculating the exact position of the moon and what is now known as the Gregory series for the arctangent, Leibniz series for the pi and Newton power series for sine and cosine with great accuracy.

Following Madhava,  the guru-sishya parampara bore fruit with a large number of students in that lineage achieving greatness. These include Vattasseri Paramesvara,  Nilakanta, Chitrabhanu,  Narayana, Jyeshtadeva and Achyuta. They wrote commentaries on Aryabhata (who was an influential figure for Kerala mathematicians), Bhaskara and Bhaskaracharya, recorded eclipses and dealt with spherical and planetary astronomy and produced many theorems and their proofs. Tantrasangraha by Nilakanta was a major output of this school. In this book, he carried out a major revision of the models for the interior planets created by Aryabhata and in the process arrived at a more precise equation than what existed in the world at that time. It was even superior to the one developed by Tycho Brahe later. These are the people we know about; Joseph writes that many more could be found from the uncatalogued manuscripts in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The book also goes into the social situation in Kerala which made these developments possible. By the 14th century the Namboothiri Brahmins, the major landholders were organized around the temple. They had a custom by which only the eldest son entered a normal marriage alliance and got his position in society by taking care of property and community affairs. The younger sons did not marry Namboothiri women, but entered into relations with Nair women — a practice called sambandham. They had to gain prestige by other means such as scholarship and the book makes the case that these younger sons formed one section of these mathematicians.

In an agrarian society which depended on monsoons, the precision of the calendar and astronomical computation of the position of celestial bodies was important. Astrology too was important for finding auspicious times for religious and personal rituals. All this knowledge was nourished, sustained and disseminated from the temple which served as the hub of this intellectual activity. The temple also employed a large number of people — priests, scholars, teachers, administrators — and there were a number of institutions attached to the temple where people were given free boarding and lodging.

After explaining the social situation in Kerala which facilitated the such progress, the final section of the book tackles an important problem. Two important mathematical developments of the 17th century are the discovery of calculus and the application of the infinite series techniques. While Europeans like Leibniz and Newton are credited with this work, the book argues that the origin of the analysis and derivations of certain infinite series originated in Kerala from the 14th to the 16th century and it preceded the work of Europeans by two centuries. The  mystery then is this: how did this information reach Europe?

The book presents multiple theories here. It considers the option that Jesuits were the channel through which this knowledge reached Rome and from there spread elsewhere. There have been many such examples of transmission from the 6th century onwards with knowledge reaching Iraq and Spain and eastward to  China, Thailand and Indonesia. But extensive survey of Jesuit literature did not provide any data for this transmission. Understanding the cryptic verses in which the information was written required investment of time and excellent knowledge of Malayalam and Sanskrit. Though Shankar Varman spoke to Charles Whish in 1832, that level of sharing of information may not have happened in the 14th century. The book then presents an alternate theory that the information may have slipped out unintentionally; the computations of the Kerala school would have been interesting for navigators and map makers and it would have been transmitted through them and then reconstructed back in Europe. This topic is not closed yet and much more research has to be done.

The book is not written purely for the layman in the style of Michel Danino’s The Lost River or Sanjeev Sanyal’s The Land of Seven Rivers. There are large portions of the book which contain mathematical proofs by  these great mathematicians and can skipped for those who are not mathematically inclined. There was something a bit odd about an appendix appearing in the middle of the book. While dealing with the history of mathematics in India, the book starts with the ‘classical’ period and with Aryabhata (499 CE). Recently, there was a course Mathematics in India – from Vedic Period to Model Times taught by Prof M D Srinivas, M S Sriram and K Ramasubramanian, whose videos are available on YouTube. The course, very rightly starts with the ancient period, starting with the Sulvasutras (which is prior to 500 BCE) and such ancient knowledge should be acknowledged.

During these times when every development is attributed to Greece or Europe, the book dispels that notion completely and argues for an indigenous development of the Kerala School. Thanks to the work of various post-Independence historians, we have more information about the the Kerala School of Mathematics and that information is getting more popular. The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics by the same author and Mathematics in India by Kim Plofker, all talk about the history of Indian math and Kerala School in particular. But in more popular books, these developments are rarely mentioned because Indian mathematicians followed the computational model of Aryabhata which is different from the Greek model. In this context, books like A Passage to Infinity  are important for us to understand these marginalized mathematicians.

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What happened in 825 CE in Kerala?

This is the photo of the Malayalam calendar hanging in my house and as per that calendar, the year is 1189 which means that something important happened in 825 CE. Wikipedia mentions that the important event was the establishment of a Nestorian colony. Maddy has written about various other events and that is covered in A Survey of Kerala History by A Sreedhara Menon as well.  The book Perumals of Kerala by Prof. M.G.S. Narayanan deals with these issues and comes up with an answer while refuting few others.

But before getting to the origins of the Malayalam calendar, called the Kollam Era, it is important to understand how events were recorded in India. The date on which the event occurred was mostly tied to a seminal event such as the establishment of a temple or an important marker like the beginning of the Kaliyuga or the Hijra. The position of Jupiter, the position of sun, the date, the week day and the nakshatra were noted while recording events.  Another popular way of recording events was to base it on reginal years of the king. Thus, if you were writing about the recent Indian elections, you would write, “In the 1st year of Rahul Gandhi being the Vice-President of Indian National Congress, it had just enough MPs under the Whatsapp group limit” or “In the 9th year of Prakash Karat’s tenure as CPI(M) general secretary, the party won seats which could be counted using both hands.”

The problem with reginal years or the establishment of a temple is that the events were local and that makes it hard for people outside the region to make sense of the date. But sometimes a local event can achieve such significance that it can live on for a thousand years and one such event happened in the southern part of Kerala.

Quilon - Dutch drawing from 1682 CE

Quilon – Dutch drawing from 1682 CE

Around the 8th century, there existed the region between Tiruvalla and Nagercoil was known as Vēṇāṭ with its capital at Vizhinjam.  In the 8th century, the Pandyans made an expansionist move and to counter that the Cēra forces moved to the south. They took overVēṇāṭ, absorbed it into the Cēra kingdom and established Kollam as the capital. This was an important victory for the Cēra’s with political and economic consequences. Kollam was a harbor city and remained important from the 9th to the 12th centuries and it was from here that the Chinese trade really took off. Eventually that trade would move up to Cochin and then Calicut. Maro Polo visited Kollam in 1294, Jordan Catalani in 1330 and  Ibn Batuta in 1343 an all of them mentioned the Chinese presence there. As Kollam bought in prosperity, its establishment became significant and what started out as a local era, was used in Vēṇāṭand eventually the whole of Kerala, though the port of Kollam became less important to Calicut eventually.

There are two inscriptions from this period, found in Kollam, which mention the phrase “Kollam tonri” implying that the event happened after the inauguration of Kollam.  Some historians have suggested — based on letters by the Nestorian Patriarch of Babylon — that the city of Kollam existed before 825 CE. Narayanan writes that this is based on an arbitrary and erroneous reading of Latin. Another suggestion is that “Koulam Male” was mentioned in Cosmas Indicopleustes by a 6th century Alexandrian merchant. Narayanan thinks that this refers to Kolam or Kolapattanam in North Kerala. Ma Huan wrote that the Tang dynasty knew about Kollam, but it may be about knowledge closer to the 9th century.

The Nestorian date is related to the settlement of Christian traders under the leadership of Mar Sapir Iso and that has been advanced by historians. According to them, if modern India could adopt Christian era, then it was possible a millennium back as well. Narayanan dismisses that argument; according to him, the establishment of Kollam as an important city came first followed by the establishment of the Nestorian colony. Narayanan writes that this incident would not have been universally acceptable compared to the founding of the city. He also dismisses the theories that it was associated with the departure of Cheraman Perumal to Mecca or with Shankaracharya.

Reference:

  1. Perumals of Kerala by Prof. M G S Narayanan
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Indian History Carnival–77: Cultural Treasures, Maratha and Deccani Paintings, Ehrenfels, Margaret Lee Weil

  1. As the new government has taken over, Vijay makes an important point that it should pay attention to safeguarding India’s national treasures and in recovering it from around the world.
  2. The Asian and African studies blog has Part 2 of the Maratha and Decaani paintings.

    The remaining five paintings in the album are all from a large Hyderabad-type series of the Rasikapriya, the classic text by Keshavdas on Hindi poetics that the author wrote at Orccha in 1594 for Kunwar Indrajit Singh, the brother of the ruler Raja Ram Shah of Orccha (1592-1605). Although a literary work, it was written in the context of the Vaishnava revival in northern and western India in the 16th century. Keshavdas took the love of Krishna and Radha out of the pastoral settings of the Gita Govinda and placed it in a courtly ambience. He used their relationship to explore all the different kinds of literary heroes and heroines and the erotic sentiment (sringara rasa) in all its variety

  3. The 1980 Gregory Peck movie, The Sea Wolves, was based on an attack on a German ship which had been trasmitting information to U-boats from Goa. Maddy goes behind that story and writes about the The Story of Ehrenfels at Goa

    The story of these four ships and their crew is what this is all about and one which was kept secret by the British and Indian governments until 1978. Interesting, right? Well, that it certainly was and as we unfold events around this story, we will travel down from Assam to Calcutta, then to Cochin and finally north to Goa. We will meet many nationalities, Indians, Germans, Brits and what not. As events turned out, the previously introduced motely group called the Calcutta Light horse were to get connected to this somewhat important operation of the SOE in India.

  4. In 1952, Margaret Lee Weil reached India to write about and photograph a man she admired – Jawaharlal Nehru. India Ink blog has an entry on her trip following Nehru and Indira on their vacation in the valley of Kashmir.

    Ms. Weil asked Mr. Nehru if she could take pictures of him for Collier’s, an American magazine. “I don’t care who takes my pictures as long as they don’t get in my way,” he snapped, according to one entry. A 34-year-old Indira Gandhi, according to Ms. Weil, had “long dark hair and a narrow sensitive face – a double of her father’s.” Mr. Nehru, in Ms. Weil’s words, appeared “every inch the statesman,” and “amazingly youthful for a man in his sixties.”

That’s it for this month. The next carnival will be up on July 15th. Please send your nominations to varnam.blog @gmail

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Indian Beads in the Mediterranean

Excavations conducted in Turkey, Greece and Israel has revealed stone beads that can be traced back to workshops in and around India. Among these sites, the oldest contact is with Israel dating from 3000 BCE to 400 BCE. This was before the Mature Harappan period (2600 – 1900 BCE) and after cotton from Balochistan was found at Dhuwelia in Eastern Jordan dating to 4000 BCE. This is also much before the formation of Israelites as people with a separate identity and much more closer to the period the first dynasties were getting setup in Egypt.

Following this, the next contact was with Turkey, dating from 2300 to 1180 BCE and with Greece (2200 – 1200 BCE).

The beads were all studied using a combination of stylistic analysis, raw material sourcing, and technological analyses of shaping and drilling using scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The 3rd millennium beads reveal the presence of different perforation techniques, including the wide spread technology of drilling with a pecking technique, and the use of tapered cylindrical stone drills. In addition, there is evidence for the use of emery abrasives with solid or tubular copper drills. The most significant discovery is the presence of beads perforated using constricted cylindrical stone drills that are characteristic of drilling technology of the Indus civilization (circa 2600-1900 BC). Some of the beads from later levels appear to have been drilled using single or double diamond drills which is a technique that also can be traced to the South Asian sub-continent. These discoveries provide a new source of information for trying to understand the complex exchange systems that linked the Mediterranean regions with West Asia and South Asia during the Bronze Age and early Iron Age. The identification of these long distance contacts and the long period during which they occurred has significant implications for other studies of technology, artistic styles, and even ideologies between these distant regions. [The 42nd Annual Conference on South Asia]

 

As I had written before, all of this is not surprising and these data points fit well into the model that has been constructed before. But here is an interesting thought: If traders from the subcontinent were traveling to far off places like Israel or exchanging goods via a trading network or if people from those regions in the Mediterranean were visiting the subcontinent, what was the language of trade? Was it Proto-Indo-European or something else?  If Indian traders or ideas were traveling West much before the mythical Aryan invasion time, who influenced whom?

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