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Buddha's Tooth: An epic story

The Buddha died in the town of Kushinara, now called Kasia on the river Chotta Gandak in Uttar Pradesh. He had not given any instructions on what was to be done with his mortal remains. The Mallas of Kusinara had gathered to pay respects to Buddha and they took over the responsibility of the funeral. After paying respects for six days, they decided to cremate the body. After the funeral there was a fight among the Mallas and certain chieftains for sharing the relics. Finally, Dona, a brahmin intervened and the chieftains decided to divide the relics into eight portions. Each of them built a monument over the relic.

Out of these relics, Buddha’s tooth reached Sri Lanka.

When Buddha’s remains were cremated in north India around 486BC, eight corporeal relics survived. They were sealed in stupas (shrines) built across the Buddhist heartland. Custody of the tooth seems to have been disputed at various times but by 310AD the situation was serious enough for an Indian king to accede to a Sinhalese request that it be transported to Sri Lanka for safekeeping. From Tamlik in west Bengal it crossed the Bay of Bengal to land on the island’s eastern shore before heading inland to Anuradhapura, the vast Sinhala capital that endured for nearly a millennium.

Its guardians took it to the Isurumuniya Monastery that still stands today. It is a small complex of buildings and shrines built around and hollowed out of a hillock of dark boulders. There is a charming sunken pool and an impressively large reclining Buddha statue of yellow complexion and scarlet robes.
[Nothing but the tooth]

It seems the tooth survived various Chola invasions as it was hidden by various priests. The first time it was hidden in 1017 and it resurfaced in 1056 at Polonnaruwa, the new Sinhala capital. The tooth survived another Chola invasion after that.

Invading Tamils kept the tooth guardians on theirtoes and it was spiritedfrom Kurunegala to Gampola to Kotte, all short-lived capitals with scant remains today. Arriving in the early 1500s, the distasteful Portuguese once claimed to have taken the tooth to Goa and burnt it, and so forced desperate Buddhists to substitute a buffalo’s.

Sri Lankans prefer the folkish story of its time hidden beneath a grinding stone, from where it eventually headed for Kandy in 1593 and a more-or-less permanent home.

The tooth endured the Dutch and the British rule. It had many more brushes with danger and destruction, most recently with a 1998 Tamil Tiger bomb attack that, among other things, exposed 18th-century frescoes hidden by plaster.[Nothing but the tooth]

The tooth’s story could be made into an epic movie probably starring Brad Pitt as the tooth.

See Also: Buddha’s Bones, Buddha’s relics

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Afghanistan and Somalia: The Similarities

Following the withdrawal of the Soviet forces in 1992, Afghanistan was thrown into a civil war. Warlords were in charge of various sectors and they enforced their own rules Businesses had to pay them for safe transport and there were competing warlords. So if a Pakistani businessman wanted to send goods via road to Turkmenistan, he would end up lining the pockets of many warlords, which affected the profit margin. Then came the Taliban, from the madrassas in Pakistan and took over the Afghanistan and bought “stability”. They defeated various warlords and established a single point of payment.

Then they imposed Islamic laws on the poor Afghanis. Criminal punishments included amputations, and stoning. Women could go out only with a male relative and Hindus were required to a special marking on their cloth. Finally they forged a relationship with Osama bin Laden and you know the rest.

Now this story is repeating in Somalia. Following the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre in 199, the county has been in chaos. In a scene by scene replay of the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, an alliance of Islamic militias have taken over the country. Now people can walk without fear in the streets of Mogadishu.

Somalis interviewed by Reuters in Mogadishu — and Jowhar and Balad to the north, which the Islamic militia also captured last week — almost unanimously expressed happiness at the new-found stability on their streets since the power shift.

Transport was moving more freely, business was flourishing, roadblocks had come down, and guns were less visible on the streets, they said. [Islamists bring rare peace, new worry to Mogadishu]

The new rulers have started enforcing their code of conduct as well.

Abdifatah Nur, 26, said he was watching a World Cup soccer match at a movie house when Islamic militiamen crashed through the doors and ordered the television turned off. They beat the children with lashes and took the young men to a jail. Before the militiamen let their prisoners free three days later, Nur said, they whipped him and cut off his long, curly hair.

Nur said that a few days later, in a different movie house, he watched as Islamic militiamen beat the owner to death, apparently for ignoring earlier orders to not show soccer matches."I hate what they are doing," Nur said. "We have no choice.">Several leaders of the Islamic militias have said they have issued no orders banning World Cup broadcasts or requiring men to cut their hair.

Now the Taliban were happily thinking of doing business with UNOCAL when the Al-Qaeda folks landed and became party poopers.Here is the composition of the groups that make up the Union of Islamic Courts.

Alas, the truth is that the Union is made up of at least four major jihadi groups: al-Ittihad al-Islami (“Islamic Union”), a group which used to appear on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (the folks at Foggy Bottom apparently bought at face value the group’s previously self-proclaimed dissolution); al-Takfir wal-Hijra (“Excommunication and Exodus”), a group so extreme that it considered Osama bin Laden too moderate and tried to kill him in Sudan in 1996; al-Islah (“Reconciliation”), an Islamist group pushing for the establishment of a Islamic state in Somalia; and al-Tabligh (“Making Known”), an Islamist “missionary” group with links to the same madrassas in Pakistan which gave us the Taliban [WSJ:The New Taliban (subscription required)]

If you have a group which considers Osama bin Laden a moderate, you know which direction Somalia is heading.

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New Facts about the Ganga Plain

Usually history books depict the development of ancient Indian Civilization as starting from Mehrgarh (from 7000 – 3300 BCE) and then moving to the Indus Valley. The Indus Valley civilization flourished from 3300 BCE to 1700 BCE and then the settlements moved to the Ganges plains, probably due to reduced monsoons or due to the disappearance of the Ghaggar-Hakra river system. It was assumed that the Ganges plains had dense forests and people did not have the tools to clear the forests till about 3500 years back.

Our understanding of the development in the Ganges plains are changing due to the work done by the scientists from the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany and Lucknow University.

..analysed pollen and chemical signatures in mud dug up from a two-metre-deep hole in the dry lake bed of Sanai Tal, between Rae Bareli and Lalganj in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Ancient pollen yields information about vegetation, while changes in the monsoon are reflected in the signatures of chemical elements buried in lake sediments.

“Our findings suggest that people lived in the Sanai lake region 15,000 years ago,” said Mohan Singh Chauhan, a scientist at Birbal Sahni Institute. But the Sanai lake bed tells a different story: of a seesawing monsoon affecting vegetation and human activity.

The pollen analysis shows that the Ganga plain was a savannah grassland with a few pockets of forests. The scientists also found “cultural pollen” — pollen from plants that grow at sites of human habitation. “Cultural pollen is indirect evidence for human presence and we found it throughout the 15,000-year history of Sanai Tal,” Chauhan said.

The lake itself formed about 12,500 years ago, during a period when the monsoon gained in strength. But the region experienced a 1,000-year spell of dry weather between 11,500 years and 10,500 years ago. During the period, there was a clear decline in the growth of trees around the Sanai Tal, the scientists said.

The levels of cultural pollen — in other words, human activity in the region — also dramatically declined during this dry spell.

The studies show the largest expansion of the lake occurred between 10,000 years and 5,800 years ago, a period corresponding to heavier monsoons. Early during this period, Chauhan said, the region witnessed the beginnings of agriculture.

Excavations at some 9,000-year-old sites in Pratapgarh district, about 100 km east of Sanai Tal, had earlier shown evidence of farming. From 5,000 years ago to the present, the levels of cultural pollen — including pollen from cultivated plants — increases significantly. During this period, the Ganga plain is believed to have witnessed a largescale influx of people.

Previous discoveries in Lahura-Deva site near Sanai Tal have given indication that the Middle Ganga Valley could be home to one of the oldest farming sites in the world, where agriculture developed independently (with respect to West Asia and China).

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Prambanan temple damaged

The Indian influence over South-East Asia expanded a lot during the time of Pallavas between the fifth and seventh centuries and the influence was mainly seen in Cambodia. In Indonesia, Srivijaya, a maritime power and dynasty which controlled the empire stretching from Sumatra to Malaya, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam arose from obscurity in the 8th century. Srivijaya was an Indianised polity, more Buddhist than Brahminical with its capital near Palembang in South Eastern Sumatra.

Rival to the Srivijaya dynasty was the joint kingdoms of Sailendra and Sanjaya based in central Java. It was during their time (after 780 CE) that the temple building activity flourished in the island. These temples were based on the layout and elevation of the Pallavan and Chalukyan temples. An exception to this style of construction is the colossal temple at Borobudur, which apparently started as a Hindu temple and was converted to a Buddhist place of worship.

One of the largest Hindu temples in the region is Prambanan, located in central Java. This temple, which was built around 850 CE during the time of the Sanjaya dynasty is dedicated to the Trimurtis. There are about 200 temples in this complex and the bas-relief of the temple depicts the story of Ramayana. Parts of this temple was damaged in the recent earthquake that hit Indonesia.

Brahma temple, one of the ancient shrines in the Prambanan compound in Klaten, Central Java,has been seriously damaged by the earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale which struck Yogyakarta city and environs early Saturday morning, a tourism official said.

“In the Prambanan complex, Brahma Temple sustained serious damage in the earthquake,” Soeroso, director of archalogical heritages at the Tourism, ArtS and Culture Ministry , said here on Saturday.

Damage was also done to Plaosan Lor and Sejiwan temples but not to serious extent. Sejiwan Temple was actually in the process of being repaired and the quake undid some of the complete repairs. The Brahma Temple must now be rehabilitated totally because its basic structre had been damaged, he said. [Brahma Temple in Prambanan Complex seriously damaged]

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Hunting for Muziris – III

The BBC has an article on the theory that the town of Pattanam in Kerala could be the location of the ancient port of Muziris.

What is known, from a 1st Century document, is that the harbour was “exceptionally important for trade.”

Clues to its location are provided in ancient Indian texts. Professor Rajan Gerta, from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala, said that there are many references to “ships coming with gold, and going back with ‘black gold'” – pepper.

“These ships went back with a whole lot of pepper and various aromatic spices, collected from the forests,” he added. Merchants from a number of different cultures are believed to have operated in the port, and there are numerous Indian finds from the time as well as Roman ones.

In 1983, a large hoard of Roman coins was found at a site around six miles from Pattanam. However, even if Muziris has been found, one mystery remains – how it disappeared so completely in the first place.

Dr Tomba said that it has always been presumed that the flow of the trade between Rome and India lasted between the 1st Century BC through to the end of the 1st Century AD, but that there is growing evidence that this trade continued much longer, into the 6th and early 7th Century – although not necessarily continually. [Search for India’s ancient city via email from Srijith]

There is no new information in this article. Dr. Shajan has been in the news for suggesting the location of Muziris and has been covered in varnam here and here. Dr. Shajan and V. Selvakumar have a 47 page presentation on the new evidence on which they have formed this conclusion.

Note that the map shows the location of the Cheraman Perumal Masjid, which according to myth, was built by a Kerala king who converted to Islam.

(Image via Dr. Shajan)

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