Indian History Carnival–75: Tipu Sultan, Archimandrite Andronicus, Shahjahanabad

Louis XVI Receives the Ambassadors of Tipu Sultan (1788)

Louis XVI Receives the Ambassadors of Tipu Sultan (1788)

    1. Calicut Heritage writes about Tipu’s antics in Calicut from the diaries of Francois Fidele Ripaud de Montaudevert who was part of Tipu’s army that went into Kerala. A lot of historians have explained that most of the anti-Tipu narratives come from his enemies, the British, and cannot be trusted. So it is interesting to read what one of his allies had to write.

      Another entry of Ripaud relating to Calicut, reads: “To show his ardent devotion and steadfast faith in the Mohammedan religion, Tipu Sultan found Kozhikode to be the most suitable place. Kozhikode was then a centre of Brahmins and had over 7,000 Brahmin families living there. Over 2,000 Brahmin families perished as a result of Tipu Sultan’s Islamic cruelties. He did not spare even women and children.”

    2. Maddy too writes about Francois Ripuad and how he bought about the downfall of Tipu

      On one side this led to the British conjuring up an international Jacobin plot, touching the distant tip of South India while on the other side Tipu was now determined to obtain the required support from France through the isle of France and prepares a new Secret embassy of two or three persons to sail to Mauritius with Ripaud. This is of course downplayed by various writers taking the ‘Tipu is a martyr’ line – Some leave out this entire Ripuad chapter from their accounts of the glorious Tipu, in fact one even goes on to say that Tipu actually sent his emissary to obtain artisans from Mauritius! Well that was a tall tale, in my opinion, taller than that narrated by Ripaud when he landed in Mangalore!

    3. Fëanor writes about Archimandrite Andronicus, who spent 18 years in India, trying to setup a Russian Mission

      Andronicus died in 1958. His book Eighteen Years in India was published in the Russian language in Argentina the next year. A review appeared in the Bulletin of the Russian Student Christian Movement, praising his selflessness, elevating him as an outstanding evangelist, talked about the lonely heroism of his mission, and celebrated his memoir a special example in the literature of exile. Others familiar with his work in India pointed out that his mission was essentially a failure, as he had been unable to convert the heathens to the faith, and did not establish his own church community either. The reason, of course, was that the Orthodox church of South India, while not in communion with the Russian Orthodox, was close enough to the latter in faith and spirit. And so after much deliberation, Andronicus concluded he should help the Syrian Orthodox church and not establish a separate congregation.

    4. Madhulika writes about the areas of Shahjahanabad that were relevant for the development of Urdu poetry

      Mirza Ghalib, though he was born in Agra, lived most of his life in Delhi—invariably in rented accommodation around the area of Ballimaran. The house where he spent his last days is in Gali Qasim Jaan (named after an 18th century nobleman, originally from Central Asia; Ghalib’s wife was a descendant of Qasim Jaan’s). Today, after having been neglected for many years, a portion of Ghalib’s haveli has been converted into a Ghalib museum, with information about his life, excerpts from his poetry, and artefacts recreating Ghalib’s days.

That’s it for April. The next carnival will be up on May 15th. If you have any links for the next carnival, please e-mail me (varnam dot blog at gmail)

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Noah (2014)

In 2010, a group of Turkish and Chinese evangelicals found Noah’s Ark on top of Mount Ararat in Turkey. The liberal NPR once aired a program titled Walking the Bible based on Bruce Feiler’s book. In the program Feiler climbs the same Mt. Ararat in Turkey in search of Noah’s Ark since Bible literalists believe that an actual Ark came to rest on top of this mountain. What these literalists fail to acknowledge is that the Ark story is basically an adaptation of an earlier tradition present in the region. The Hebrew Bible did not exist in a vacuum; it was influenced by the culture and traditions of the Ancient Near East. The flood story of the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 6-9 is simply an Israelite version of the Mesopotamian Epic of Atrahasis and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh

However, it isn’t just the similarity between the biblical materials and the Ancient Near Eastern sources that is important to us. In fact, in some ways it’s the dissimilarity that is remarkably important to us, the biblical transformation of a common Near Eastern heritage in light of its radically new conceptions of God and the world and humankind. We’ll be dealing with this in some depth, but I’ll give you one quick example. We have a Sumerian story about the third millennium BCE, going back 3000 — third millennium, 3000 BCE. It’s the story of Ziusudra, and it’s very similar to the Genesis flood story of Noah. In both of these stories, the Sumerian and the Israelite story, you have a flood that is the result of a deliberate divine decision; one individual is chosen to be rescued; that individual is given very specific instructions on building a boat; he is given instructions about who to bring on board; the flood comes and exterminates all living things; the boat comes to rest on a mountaintop; the hero sends out birds to reconnoiter the land; when he comes out of the ark he offers a sacrifice to the god — the same narrative elements are in these two stories. It’s just wonderful when you read them side by side. So what is of great significance though is not simply that the biblical writer is retelling a story that clearly went around everywhere in ancient Mesopotamia; they were transforming the story so that it became a vehicle for the expression of their own values and their own views.[Lecture 1 - The Parts of the Whole]

Thus even though the stories look similar, the rationale for the flood in the Hebrew Bible was written to spread a different theology. In the new movie, Noah gets dreams of the flood and after consuming some hallucinogens at his grandfather Methuselah’s place, finds the answer: build an ark. He builds the ark and along with his family — wife  Naameh, sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, Shem’s wife  Ila — and his nemesis Tubal-cain, take off as the floods hit the earth. Oh, before that there are some scenes involving rocks which also shape shift like Optimus Prime who protect Noah and help him escape.

While the animals lie sedated, there is lot of drama on board the ark. There is Tubal-cain tempting Ham to murder his father because Noah did not get a woman for Ham. Then there is Ila, who springs a surprise on Noah, when he thought that she was barren. Finally there is the psychopathic Noah, who eagerly waits the birth of his grandchildren so that he can murder them. Finally, all ends well. Tubal-cain is murdered by Ham. Ila delivers twin girls and as Noah goes to murder them, he has a change of heart and unlike Abraham who was willing to kill his son, he spares his grandchildren. The flood stops as well and the human race is saved.

While the director claims that he has stayed true to the Bible, the Christian conservatives have found numerous issues with the film based on the Hebrew Bible. According to a creationist, “Noah is an insult to Bible-believing Christians, an insult to the character of Noah and, most of all, an insult to the God of the Bible.” One of the issues is that Noah has a problem with carnivores. It is Tubal-cain, who argues to the contrary that God had given dominion over the entire planet to humans.  The suggestion that the movie is pro-environment, pro-vegetarian had many in knots. But then in Genesis 1, God had commanded humans to eat plants and it was only after the flood that they were permitted to eat meat. As Prof. James Tabor suggests, if only people read the Bible.

For example, the film never mentions God and referrers to him as the Creator.

I have heard this objection repeatedly this weekend, particularly on FOX news and Talk Radio outlets, and it is blatantly false and ridiculous. The very word translated “God” in Genesis is not a name but a generic reference that might be translated as “The Powers” (Elohim). One can only imagine the uproar had Aronofsky chosen to call the Creator “The Powers”–which would have been quite biblical. In the Noah film this nameless One is constantly referred to as “the Creator,” but used in a very personal way by all the characters in the film–good and bad. According to Exodus 6:3 God did not make Himself known by His personal name Yahweh (YHVH) or “the LORD” until the time of Moses. The references to God as “the LORD” in Genesis 6-9 in the Flood story are accordingly anachronistic—so it turns out, ironically, that Aronofsky’s designation of God as “the Creator,” is more biblical than his critics have imagined.[Bashers of the Noah Film Should Re-Read Their Bibles]

What is not depicted in the film is that some of the animals who hitched a ride on the ark did not have a good life. After he got on land, “then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.”

For the Turkish, Chinese and American evangelists, this movie may have been offensive, but for people interested in the history of how the Hebrew Bible was written, this is good time to watch or read the transcript of this lecture which talks about the contradictions within the Bible as well as within the flood story. Did the Creator ask Noah to bring two pairs of each living being or seven pairs of pure animals and one pair of impure animals and seven pairs of birds? In some  places the flood was for 40 days and few lines later, it was for 150 days. All of this, for a historian, leads to the documentary hypothesis, with multiple authors and revisions.

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Disputing the Jefferson Davis Theory

Jefferson Davis, painted by Daniel Huntington in 1874

Jefferson Davis, painted by Daniel Huntington in 1874

In his memoirs, published in 1881, ex-Confederate President Jefferson Davis cast secession as a wholly constitutional move designed to restore government to what the founding fathers had intended. The goal of secession, the late President wrote, was to protect the rights of “sovereign states” from “tremendous and sweeping usurpation” by the federal government. “The truth remains intact and incontrovertible, that the existence of African servitude was in no wise the cause of the conflict, but only an incident.” The problem is that Davis’s  interpretation was not consistent with case for secession made by southern politicians in the 1850s.

On June 10, 1850, the people of Georgia passed the Georgia Platform and it contained five grievances of the state. One of the main points of contention between Georgia and the Federal Government was related to slavery and its future. For the Georgians, the “ the establishment of a boundary between the latter and the State of Texas, the suppression of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and the extradition of fugitive slaves, the rejection of propositions to exclude slavery from the Mexican territories and to abolish it in the District of Columbia (“Georgia Platform”) ” were all controversial. The fourth clause in the Platform made it clear that when it came to the subject of slavery, there would be no compromise. It clearly stated that it would oppose any action, “upon the subject of slavery in the District of Columbia, or in any places subject to the jurisdiction of Congress incompatible with the safety, domestic tranquility, the rights and honor of the slaveholding States, or any refusal to admit as a State any territory hereafter, applying, because of the existence of slavery therein, or any act prohibiting the introduction of slaves into the territories of New Mexico and Utah, or any act repealing or materially modifying the laws now in force for the recovery of fugitive slaves. ” Thus, they were clear about what they were fighting for.

Mississippi too was clear about why were seceding from the Union in A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth,” they stated. Mississippi too was incensed by the dangers to the institution, the refusal of admission of new slaves states to the Union, the nullification of the Fugitive State Law and the proposal for slave equality. They felt that, it was worth seceding from the Union rather than face the loss of four billions dollars of money

The inspection and sale of a slave, 1854

The inspection and sale of a slave, 1854

.The same spirit about slavery was echoed in the Cotton is King speech of James Henry Hammond in 1858. According to Mr. Hammond, though people claimed that slavery had been abolished, it was in name only and “all the powers of the earth cannot abolish that. God only can do it when he repeals the fiat.” Unlike the Northerners who had kept White men as wage earners, the Southerners, he felt, had “a race inferior to her own, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigor, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes.” Every society, he argued required a class of people, “do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life” with a “ low order of intellect” and with such people, they were able to produce massive amount of wealth. The new developments, he thought were threatening the business and if required, the South was ready to go to war for it.

The Southerners knew that the admission of a large number of free states would change the balance of power in the Congress. As they struggled to the secure the future of slavery, the edifice on which their wealth was created, they realized that the slavery could soon be abolished. The admission of new states into the Union always resulted in a debate over slavery and they often resulted in a compromise. For the Southerners it was evident that the tide was not going their way and secession was the only option available to preserve their wealth.

The important point to note is that the statement from Jefferson Davis was written in 1881, much after the South lost the war and thus a post-justification for the war they lost. As you read the statements from Mississippi, Georgia and from James Henry Hammond, it is clear that slavery and not the state rights were the cause of secession.

(This was one of the writing assignments for the course History of the Slave South at Coursera)

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Indian History Carnival–74: Puranas, Mughals, Orissa, Anandi Gopal Joshi, Selden Map

  1. Dr. Sunil Deepak writes about ancient Indian history based on the Puranas. His post is based on the book Pracheen Brahmin Kahaniyan by Rangey Raghav
    Ancient Indians used logic and had the capacity to categorize and analyse knowledge. Thus, Panini could work on Sanskrit grammar in a way that is understandable to linguistic experts even today. Or Vatsyayan could work on the theme of sexuality, that can be understood scientifically even today. Even esoteric subjects like meditation, yoga and the nature of human soul, were looked at in logical terms, analysed and discussed. Then, why those ancient Indians, did not use that kind of logic for writing history? Why did they make a mish-mash of actual events with mythological stories? Perhaps for ancient Indians, the worlds of gods and spirits were as real as their daily physical world, because that was the only way they could make a sense out of the events? Thus their ideas of history were impossible to separate from these fantasy worlds? Perhaps it had something to do with Indian concept of time as being cyclical (and not linear), where worlds were created and destroyed in cycles,and thus history was understood differently?

  2. Saptarshi Dutta writes in WSJ India about a Mughal Art collection which depicts life before the British arrived. The post has few paintings from that collection.
    Ghulam Ali Khan, one of the most accomplished Indian painters from that era, drew some of the paintings. He was the last royal Mughal artist and was employed in the courts of Mughal rulers Akbar II and Bahadur Shah Zafar. Other works are believed to have been drawn by some of Khan’s family members. One of Khan’s paintings featuring in the sale on April 8, captures what life was like for many workers during the Mughal era. It shows a man, his mouth covered with a cloth, working with a string to fluff up cotton

  3. We know very little about Orissa, says Fëanor
    Five hundred years earlier, Orissa was ruled by a Hindu raja. Orissa was a Shaivite state – the God Shiva was supposed to be its lord, and the kingdom was dotted with grandly ornamented Shiva temples. One particularly magnificent sculpture – of Shiva and Parvati – likely stood at the entrance to one of the great temples. It found its way to Stuart and thence to the British Museum. This was a life-size sculpture, and originally would have been brightly painted. Shiva would have been white, signifying the ash with which the ascetic God adorned himself, with a blue throat, from the poison he swallowed during the churning of the ocean for amrit. Observe the tenderness and devotion between him and his consort – this was no impersonal deity thundering abstinence and damnation upon his followers. Ganesha, their son, appears at the bottom, while figures representing the donor of the sculpture and his wife appear to the left and right of the Gods.

  4. Jai Virdi writes about Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi, a Brahmin, who went to United States in the 1880s to study medicine.
    Born in 1865 in Kaylan, a small town near Bombay (Mumbai), she was married off at 9 years old to 229 year old postmaster Gopalro (Gopal Vinayak Joshi), a widower. Gopal renamed Joshi, shifting her birth name from Yamuna to Anandi (“the happy one”). He was also a supporter of women’s education and started teaching his young wife shortly after they got married. She eventually learned Sanskrit and English. The marriage completely ideal; there’s sources indicating that Gopal often abused his young wife in order to keep her focused on her education. In the 1880s, with the help of a Philadelphia missionary, Joshi was sent to the United States to receive an education in medicine, a decision made after the tragic death of her son when she was 14. She enrolled in the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, then the first hospital for women; her thesis was titled Obstetrics among Aryan Hindoos.

  5. The rediscovered Selden map shows Calicut in what would be Rangoon. Maddy explains the story behind the map.
    The map itself was constructed towards the end of the Ming period, i.e. early 1600’s. Calicut though still important had slipped out of the early prominence and the Arabian seas were mostly in the control of first the Portuguese and later the Dutch. The English were waiting to slip in at an opportune time. The Moplah, Marakkar and Arab sailors still plied the waters of the Arabian Sea and the Western powers i.e. Dutch, English and Portuguese ran their own shipping vessels through these waters carrying tons of spices and other goods back and forth to red sea ports. The Ming Chinese voyages had ceased in the 15th century, a full 100 years or more before the Selden map was created. The junk trade was mostly restricted to the SE Asian areas (the area depicted in the map). So why place Gu Li at the corner or even mention it? It is not possible to discuss this topic without covering the Chinese trade with Malabar through the ages, albeit briefly.

If you have any links that are to be featured, please send them by any of these channels. The next carnival will be up on April 15th.

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New date for Chauvet Cave

If you have seen the the Bavarian film maker Werner Herzog’s 3-D documentary, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams(2010) about the Chauvet caves, you would be wonderstruck by the amazing paintings on the walls. The paintings were dated to around 30,000 years back, when the Neanderthal man roamed alongside humans. Now new data says, these caves were old, but not that old.

But its study – when one places it in its natural regional, cultural and thematic framework – makes it impossible to see it as an isolated entity of astonishing precocity. This needs to be reconsidered, and the affinities that our research has brought to light are clearly incompatible with the very early age which has been attributed to it. And if one extends this examination to the whole of the Franco-Cantabrian domain, the conclusion is inescapable: although Chauvet cave displays some unique characteristics (like every decorated cave), it belongs to an evolved phase of parietal art that is far removed from the motifs of its origins (known from art on blocks and on shelter walls dated by stratigraphy to the Aurignacian, in France and Cantabrian Spain). The majority of its works are therefore to be placed, quite normally, within the framework of the well-defined artistic creations of the Gravettian and Solutrean. Moreover, this phase of the Middle Upper Palaeolithic (26,000–18,000) coincides with a particularly intensive and diversified local human occupation, unknown in earlier periods and far less dense afterwards in the Magdalenian. A detailed critique of the treatment of the samples subjected to AMS radiocarbon dating makes it impossible to retain the very early age (36,000 cal BP) attributed by some authors to the painted and engraved figures of Chauvet cave.[New investigations into the cultural and stylistic identity of the Chauvet cave and its radiocarbon dating]

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