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Indian History Carnival–71: Persian Ramayanas, Cantonments,Alakzandar Hadarli sahib, Medieval Deccan, Koh-i-noor, World Wars, Anthropology

Battle at Lanka, Ramayana, by Sahib Din. Battle between the armies of Rama and the King of Lanka. Udaipur, 1649-1653

Battle at Lanka, Ramayana, by Sahib Din. Battle between the armies of Rama and the King of Lanka. Udaipur, 1649-1653

  1. Rana Safvi writes about the Persian Ramayanas which number around 23. Some of these were translated from Sanskrit and others from Awadhi.

    The Ramayana of Masih is a true exposition of our composite culture – innumerable words and allusions related to the Quran and Iranian literature have been used to enrich this masnawi and to lend colour to the story. Sanskrit and Hindi words sanyaasi, darshan, jharoka, rasta and paan have been assimilated to enrich Indo-Persian literature. This assimilation was indispensable for the Persian language to serve as a mirror reflecting our sentiments and environment. His Ramayana was in the style of a Persian masnavi and not in the tradition of Valmiki’s division into cantos or kandas. Masih was targeted by fanatic Muslims for writing the Ramayana and had to justify his stance in the beginning of the book under the heading Dar Mazammat-e-Hussad (Condemning the jealous).

  2. Erica Wald understands the British Empire through the space of the cantonment in 19th century India

    The visible presence of a European corps of soldiers was thought to be essential to the maintenance of empire. From the daily drill and parade to his imposing uniform, the European soldier’s importance was as much symbolic as physical. However, medical and military observers attacked these same men for their supposedly wanton and ‘inferior’ behaviour, and display of dangerous tendencies which openly threatened not only military security, but broader imperial discipline.

  3. A painting of the court of Nawab ‘Abd al-Rahman of Jhajjar of 1852 shows a young European officer seated next to the Nawab. Malini Roy decodes his Persian name — Alakzandar Hadarli sahib — and tells his story

    Alexander Heatherly Azad was in fact well known in Delhi poetical circles under his pen-name Azad as a pupil of ‘Arif and he took part in the musha’iras arranged by Bahadur Shah Zafar and the princes. He is mentioned in Farhatullah Beg’s Dehli ki akhri shama, translated by Akhtar Qamber as The Last Musha’irah of Delhi, as sitting among the 40 poets gathered in the courtyard of a great house for a night of poetry presided over by Mirza Fakhr al-Din, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s favourite son and, under the name Ramz, a fine poet in his own right. Azad was ‘one of the great poets of the Urdu language’ (Saksena 1941, pp. 73-4).

  4. At 3 Quarks Daily, Gautam Pemmaraju writes about a trip to Medieval Deccan

    The rich, complex synthesis of the arts, culture, mysticism, shared sentiments, and indeed, of serendipitous winds passing through the open doors of history and influence, are more than amply evident at Ibrahim Rauza, the mausoleum of the medieval sultan of the Bahmani succession state of Bijapur, Ibrahim Adil Shah II. From the striking domed entrance gateway, the serene lawns, to the two structures upon a plinth (the tomb and the adjacent mosque), all fecund with the intense intermingling of a staggering range of ideas, Ibrahim Rauza is truly, a feast for the eyes.

  5. The Virtual Victorian has a post which tells the story of Duleep Singh, Queen Victoria and the Koh-i-noor

    But Victoria’s advisors would never consent to giving the diamond to Duleep. They would not relinquish any part of their Indian territories. They knew what the diamond symbolised and, dreading another Mutiny, Duleep was followed by British spies and eventually exposed as a traitor for consorting with various dissidents; mainly those Russians and Irish men with whom he had been making plans to march an army on the Punjab by route of Russia and Afghanistan. In response Duleep was exiled from England as well as India. He was forced to live out the rest of his life on the European continent, where he died at the age of 55 in a Parisian hotel.

  6. Sidin Sunny Vadukut writes about two frequently ignored episodes in Indian history: the Japanese occupation of Andamans and Indian participation in the First World War.

    At least 75% of Indian people I speak to have no idea the Japanese occupied the Andamans. And even fewer know how brutal the three-year long occupation was. The only book I have been able to source on this is Jayant Dasgupta’s Japanese in Andaman & Nicobar Islands: Red Sun over Black Water. It is a very short book that does little more than push the door ajar on a fascinating chapter of Indian history. The period deserves much greater coverage and analysis. I am not exactly sure why it remains ignored. Perhaps because it happened at the fringe of an irrelevant theatre of war and had very little participation from the countries that dominate popular WW2 historiography.

  7. Dr. S Gregory has a write up on Anthropology and anthropological teaching in Kerala. 2013 marks the 25th year and he has a history.

    The department had also taken initiatives, under the guidance of Prof Rajendran, Archaeologist and UGC Research Scientist (Kerala Univeristy), in the identification of certain archaeological finds in the region. Notable among these include the following: 1) Visited the site at Karaaltheruvu at Kodiyeri near Thalassery and identified the archaeological finds such as pots, skeletal remains and iron pieces from the laterite dome at the site as belonging to the megalithic culture and added to the collection of the Department Museum (2011); 2) Visited the site at Cheruparamba near Panoor and identified a Megalithic Urn Burial which also contained small bowels, skeletal remains and iron pieces, and were later transferred to the Department Museum. The Megalithic urn burial was dug out by a team of M.A. Anthropology students and Transferred from the Site to the Department Museum (2011); 3) Identification of a laterite Dome at Melathiyadam of Cheruthayam Panchayath, Kannur District as belonging to Megalithic culture during the field tour undertaken in the Department in April 2013; 4) Identification of a megalithic lateriet dome at Antholimala near Kodiyeri, in Thalasseri Municipality during a field trip undertaken in June 2013

The next carnival will be up on Dec 15th. If you have a link, leave it in the comment.

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Indian History Carnival–70: Atheism,Islamic Jihad, Zero, Tulsi Das, Genizah collection, Syud Hossain

  1. Koenraad Elst has a paper on Atheism in Indian philosophy. He explains that Hinduism had a powerful premodern tradition of atheism, but it was superseded by theism
    Few people realize (and many Hindus will be startled if not angry to hear us assert it) that the karma doctrine is inherently linked with atheism, even in its vulgar moralistic version. Because the world is deemed inherently just, with a certain type of deeds automatically leading to a certain type of experiences, there is no need for a Father in heaven to dispense justice. In history, the most atheistic schools, especially Jainism, have had the most radical and uncompromising conception of karma. You are deemed stuck with your own karmic record, you have to work it off yourself and bear all the consequences yourself for any karma you incur further. No other being, whether human or divine, can relieve you of even the smallest quantity of karma. By contrast, in theistic Hinduism, lip-service is paid to the notion of karma, but in fact it is very watered down. People pray to a divine being for the diminution of karma, somewhat like Catholics can buy indulgences to be freed from so many years of purgatory.

  2. Secular African has a blog post about India before the coming of Islam. The post has an excerpt from M. A. Khan’s Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery.
    Further evidence of the contrast between the Hindu and Muslim codes of war comes from Ferishtah’s narration of Deccan Sultan Muhammad Shah’s attack against King Krishna Ray of Vijaynagar kingdom in 1366. Muhammad Shah had vowed to slaughter 100,000 infidels in the attack and ‘the massacre of the unbelievers was renewed in so relentless a manner that pregnant women and children at the breast even did not escape the sword,’ records Ferishtah.485 The Muslim army in a treacherous surprise-attack put Krishna Ray on the flight and 10,000 of his soldiers were slain. Muhammad Shah’s ‘thirst for vengeance being still unsatisfied, he commanded the inhabitants of every place around Vijaynagar to be massacred,’ records Ferishtah.

  3. Why did Indians invent the number zero and not the Chinese or Babylonians? Alex Bellos visited Gwalior to find out.
    For George Gheverghese Joseph, a maths historian at the University of Manchester, the invention of zero happened when an unknown Indian mathematician about two thousand years realized that “this philosophical and cultural concept would also be useful in a mathematical sense.” Renu Jain, professor of mathematics at Jiwaji University in Gwalior, was my guide at the temple. She agreed that Indian ideas of spiritual nothingness led to mathematical zero. “Zero denotes nothing. But in India it was derived from the concept of shunya. Shunya means a sort of salvation,” she said. “When all our desires are nullified, then we go to nirvana or shunya or total salvation.” In the modern world it is common to see religion and science as always in conflict. Yet in ancient India, one cannot untangle mathematics and mysticism.

  4. Sunil Deepak has a review of Manas ka Hans, a bio-fiction about Tulsi Das written by Amrit Lal Nagar.
    [While Tulsi was writing Ram Charit Manas] Ever since the platform for worshiping Rama was built in the mosque and people could visit it, the people of Ayodhaya were happier. The soldiers of the mosque behaved less harshly. The anger between Hindus and Muslims had reduced. Even though some conservative Muslims were against this decision of Akbar, but they did not have any power. Tulsidas, every day, before starting writing, used to visit the Rama’s statue on the platform inside the mosque. (p. 301) Thus, Tulsi’s views about Babri mosque in Nagar’s book ask for the possibility of praying to Ram but they are also about living in harmony and friendship with Muslims and respecting the mosque. Nagar’s Tulsi is happy to worship Rama in the courtyard of the mosque and looks at it as a place of the worship to the “infinite formless God”.

  5. In 1896, Cambridge bought a huge archive of documents from a synagogue in Cairo. There is one fragment in that which is written in Devanagari script, but no one seems to be able to figure out what it says. Here is the blog post which mentions and here are some additional images.
  6. Maddy writes about Syud Hossain, the man who fought for Indian independence from United States
    Hossain continued to thunder in the lecture halls – he said in one meeting “Indians are not trusted with arms and yet hundreds of thousands of Indians are systematically taken across the seas to various parts of the world to fight nationalists not yet brought to the same state of servitude as themselves and to help to reduce them to that state. And he pushed even harder for independence “India is changing and changing very rapidly. The spirit of self-assertion and self-confidence manifested either in platform or in silent plans of works no doubt reveals the dawn of a new era in India”.

Thanks to all the contributors for the links. The next carnival will be up on Nov 15th. Please leave a links as comments to this post.

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Indian History Carnival-69: 1258 CE, Aurangzeb, Singphos, Ganesh Utsav,

  1. In 1258, the Mongols reached Baghdad, a large volcanic eruption happened somewhere and Europe was devastated. All these had consequences for a place called Calicut in Kerala. Maddy writes
    In summary, the events in the Middle East of course was a reason for the emergence and resulting maintenance of the trade links with Calicut. The Periyar floods that occurred around the same time resulted in the necessity of the move of trading ports northward from Muziris to a more stable area geographically and politically, thus resulting in the choice of Calicut. As this was happening, I would come to the conjecture that the worrisome situation in Europe and the Middle East owing to the 1258 volcanic eruption, resulted in increased export volumes and profitability, speeding up the maritime passages and numbers, which at one time were forays by smaller groups of Jewish traders like Abraham ben Yiju.As you can imagine, Europe was in recovery mode – coming out of the horrible effects of the 1258 dry fog. This recovery needed larger amounts of spices, not just as a possible cure for pestilence but also to enhance preservation of smaller supplies of meat.

  2. The Asian and African studies blog takes a look at depictions of Aurangzeb painted during his lifetime from 1619-1707
    Aurangzeb left northern India for the Deccan in 1681, never to return. An increasingly orthodox Muslim, he re-instated the poll-tax levied on non-Muslims, revived the power of Muslim clerics, and fostered a political and social divide based on religion. The last portrait of Aurangzeb pictures the devout Muslim ruler in profile, with a downward gaze at a manuscript held in his hands, most likely to be the Qur’an. Dressed in stark white garments, his appearance is in sharp contrast to the golden radiance of the halo, the floral patterned bolster and the luxurious carpet hung on the window ledge. For Aurangzeb, there was no greater personal accomplishment than to memorise every verse and chapter of the Qur’an. Having committed to memory the entire text, he wrote two copies of the Qur’an in perfect calligraphy. This style of portraiture, featuring Aurangzeb in his old age and hunched over a manuscript, was commonly produced and suggests that artists felt that this was the most appropriate type of pictorial format to depict the elderly ruler.

  3. Ranjit Singh writes that it was not Robert Bruce who discovered tea in Assam, but the Singphos
    Robert Bruce is the Englishman who is credited with discovery of tea in Assam in the year 1823. But the Singphos, who were the a major tribe of Upper Burma and their territory once extended from Arunachal into Assam, beyond Jorhat, and covered large tracts in northern Burma, smirk at this statement. They contend that they had been drinking and using the tea plants in the food seven centuries earlier than 1823. . Griffith also noticed that tea leaves were eaten as a vegetable food prepared in mustard oil and garlic. A similar salad recipe in Burma, called ‘Letpet’, promised marital bliss. Here the leaves were boiled for several months for fermentation. The resuscitated leaves were chopped and mixed with oil, garlic, fried shrimps, fruits and dried coconut and served to newly wed

  4. Mohini writes about Ganesh Utsav of the Peshwas
    Ganesh Utsav was not held in the Shaniwarwada after the murder of Narayanrao Peshwa in1773. It was restarted by Nana Phadnis and Sakharam Bapu Bokil, the two able administrators of the Peshwa in 1778 at Fort Purandhar as the next Peshwa, Sawai Madhavrao was living there. He was 4years old. After Sawai Mahavrao came back to Shaniwarwada, between the period 1760 to 1791, the Utsav was celebrated on an enormous scale with great pomp and splendour. There were 526 dancers, 185 singers, 732 folk artists, play actors who came from all over India to perform on the 10 days of the festival. The estimated cost coming to around Rs. 4358

The next carnival will be up on Oct 15th. Please send your nominations by e-mail or by leaving a comment.

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Indian History Carnival-68: Linguistics, Perumals, Peacock Throne, Cotton Textiles, Wazir Khanam

 A map showing the approximate present-day distribution of the Indo-European branches

A map showing the approximate present-day distribution of the Indo-European branches

  1. Giacomo Benedetti writes about Indo-European linguistic theories, specifically some issues he finds in the Indo-Iranian branch

    It seems that the average linguist is not aware of the problems of this theory and generations of linguists did not find anything strange in the fact that ‘Indo-Iranians’ have transformed every e and o without exception into a, which is also not very useful for distinguishing words. The only justification that I can imagine for such an incredible theory is that the substrate language did not know e and o, like Classical Arabic. But this would imply that the Indo-Iranians were practically unmixed with the original Indo-European speakers and we also wonder why did they develop those sounds later in every Indo-Iranian language. And how is it possible that no Indo-Iranian dialect preserved them?

  2. Calicut Heritage has a post on Prof M.G.S.Narayanan’s book Perumals of Kerala (which was his Ph.D thesis) and the information it reveals

    He marshals arguments based on sound epigraphical evidence to disprove the existing accounts of a hundred years’ war between Cheras and Cholas which led to the disintegration of the Chera dynasty and the rise of smaller principalities. He re-examines and re-interprets the Keralolpatti chronicle which was once accepted as history and then rejected as nonsense. He discovers sufficient epigraphical and other evidence to support “the Keralolpatti legend about the last Perumal’s partition of Kerala and conversion to Islam. However, there is a vital change regarding the date of this event – the popularly accepted date was 825 AD but the new date is 1122-24 AD. The ‘Partition of Kerala’ is found to be the transformation of districts of the Chera kingdom into independent principalities”. (page 20)

  3. Maddy has the fascinating tale of Shah Jahan’s Peacock Throne and some theories on where it might be now

    Nevertheless inconsistencies in the various accounts about what actually happened to the peacock throne during the last days of the Moghuls, keep people guessing and researching. Perhaps someday some more of those jewels as listed and detailed by Tavernier will be found in NE Iran, or perhaps in Tehran or Afghanistan. Still it will be difficult to find out what actually happened to the throne that cost twice the Taj Mahal. As for the people who sat on it, the curse of the throne ensured that almost all of them died violent or horrible deaths. It is like someone said, vanity kills!!

  4. Kazuo Kobayashi explains how the demand for Indian cotton textiles among Africans underpinned the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the eighteenth century.

    European merchants bartered with local brokers along the African coast for slaves and other African products. They had to barter with highly desirable goods since discerning African brokers were known to reject the goods that Europeans brought across. The list of commodities imported from Europe into Africa included textiles, iron, brass, military goods, cowrie shells, beads, and alcoholic beverages. Indian cotton textiles comprised a large proportion of the imports. In the case of Anglo-African trade, piece goods of Indian cottons were the most important trades in exchange for African slaves, making up 30 per cent of the total export value in the mid-eighteenth century.

  5. India Ink blog has an interview with literary critic and novelist Shamsur Rahman Faruqi who has written a 984-page fictional account about the life and times of Wazir Khanam, the mother of the famed Urdu poet Daag Dehalvi

    I didn’t do any systematic, formal research. As I wrote, I did consult a few books when I needed to verify some particular detail, dates mostly. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the novel had always existed in my head as an amorphous, identity-less entity. Facts, memories, impressions — and of course my reading before I’d began to compose the novel — it was all there — a chaos, especially because I didn’t have anything like an idea to write a novel with Wazir Khanam as the chief character.

  6. The next issue of History Carnival will be up on September 15th. Please e-mail your nominations to varnam.blog @gmail. Please make sure they are blog entries and not newspaper articles.
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Indian History Carnival-67: Tantra, Malayalam Calendar, Sakuntala, Ḥāfiẓ of Shiraz, Huzur Paga

  1. Koenraad Elst has a review of Tantra Illuminated. The Philosophy, History and Practice of a Timeless Tradition (Anusara Press, The Woodlands TX, 2012) by Christopher D. Wallis
    A necessary explanation here is that Tantra has nothing to do with the Kāma Sūtra and very little with sexuality. (And to the extent it has, it teaches intercourse with retention of semen, so what most men look for in the sex act is the one thing to be avoided.) Of course, New Age channels and the internet are full of disinformation on the matter, and for some more time we will have to live with the Western conception of Tantra as related to sex. Sometimes workshop on Tantra are announced by teachers unconnected with the legitimate tradition: “If you feel like testing them, you can ask them what Tantra [scripture] they are drawing on (…) and which Tantric mantra they use in their daily sādhana [regular spiritual practice].” (p.432) But at least this gives the writer the opportunity to unchain his devils against the internet, an endless source of false claims about Indian religions.

  2. The Malayalam calendar starts in the year 824 CE and Maddy writes about various theories on why that was the first year
    According to late Historian M.S. Jayaprakash the launch of Kollavarsham marked the complete transition of Kerala from the Dravidian-Buddhist tradition to the Aryan-Vedic system. According to him, Kollavarsham also marked the political transition of the land from the reign of Perumals to a caste-based rule. The commencement of Kollavarsham was in fact the declaration of a political and cultural change in Kerala. He also opines that the Kollavarsham declaration was made by two separate sessions of almanac experts and mathematicians held simultaneously at two places known by the same name Kollam – one the present headquarters of the southern district and the other one near Kozhikode in the north. So that is another train of thinking about the reasons for a new system, we need to get into. The implementation still follows the earlier theories. In conclusion, one can assume that the rather unique solar, current calendar was developed by the immigrants moving in from the North, perhaps the Namboothiri’s who settled down in Malabar and later in Quilon, and then the calendar got a little bit adjusted to what we know as the Kollam calendar. This has some traction due to the fact the calendar was first established in Malabar and a month later in Quilon, though it does not explain it satisfactorily. Nevertheless, due to the fact that it is also called Kolamba era, it is somehow more associated with Kurakkeni Kollam. But these are all assumptions based on obscure documents and you can perhaps imagine that with more research on the Buddhist – Jainist past of Kerala more facts will slowly come to light including the Sankaracharya aspects and you may even see the conclusions of Dr Jayaprakash gaining more credence.

  3. Fëanor writes about the world wide popularity of Abhijñānaśākuntalam in an illustrated post
    Others have been fascinated with Kalidasa’ tale of the unfortunate Sakuntala. Nikolai Karamzin, the great Russian historian, translated the tale into his language, claiming that it was a literature for the world. Here he was joining the likes of Goethe, Schelling, Herder, William Jones and de Chézy, in celebrating the great poem. Indeed, Abhijñānaśākuntalam was incredibly popular – nearly 10% of all works translated from Indian literature into Russian between 1792-1965 were of it! [2] It’s not just the Hungarians who were inspired by Sakuntala. Camille Claudel sculpted the remarkable ‘Çacountala’ or ‘L’Abandon ou Vertumne et Pomone’ between 1886 and 1905. It received much attention, and was kept in storage for several years. Claudel, of course, was channelling her own passion for Auguste Rodin. From Çacountala, she made subsequent variations, one of which is this lovely Vertumnus and Pomona:

  4. Asian and African studies blog writes about a manuscript of Dīvān by the Persian lyric poet Ḥāfiẓ of Shiraz.
    In the painting, it may be that the seemingly righteous are represented by the two figures seated to the right (our left) of the faqīh, one of whom seems to be remonstrating with him. Possibly they have brought the miscreants before him in the expectation of having them sentenced to the ḥadd punishment (in other words, a severe beating) for drunkenness. Imagine their surprise at having the moral tables turned upon them by the representative of Sacred Law! Meanwhile, in the foreground two figures struggle to hold up or resuscitate a beardless young man whom they may have been introducing to corrupt practices. There are no signs of spiritual ecstasy, or of spiritual practices of any kind. That the opposite is the case is amply shown in the figure on the far right, possibly the brother of the one on the left. His turban has unravelled in picturesque style. What is more, he is quite unmistakably throwing up on the floor of the madrasa courtyard.

  5. Mohini writes about Huzur Paga or the Royal Stables of the Marathas
    The horses used in the campaigns were mostly procured from auctions and were gifted or looted from the losers of the battles. These were thoroughbreds. The Arabian Horse, The Neela (pure white), and the Panchakalyan (one with White hoofs). The other horses were used for purposes such as, pulling carriages, or carts or short rides to nearby destinations for personal reasons. These were mostly indigenous. Some of the Peshwa’s had their own favourite horse and had even named them. Nanasaheb Peshwa had a horse called ‘Varu’, and Madhavrao Peshwa had ‘Matvali’. The Huzur cavalry, at any given time housed about 2000 horses these were kept in ‘Paga’s’ in and around Pune, Chas (Close to Chakan), Kavadi and Pimpalwandi villages.

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