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varnam - Page 4 of 387 - A Blog on Indian Historyvarnam | A Blog on Indian History | Page 4
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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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Indian History Carnival-76: Ramayana, Tipu, Coolie Woman, Palghat Achans

  1. The Asian and African studies blog has been writing about the influence of Ramayana in various countries in India’s neighborhood. Here are the links: Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, Indonesia and Malaysia, Burma
    In the Malay Muslim courts of the archipelago, literary traditions now transmitted using Arabic script continued to reflect deep-seated Hindu-Buddhist roots. The Malay version of the Ramayana, Hikayat Seri Rama, is believed to have been committed to writing between the 13th and 15th centuries. One of the oldest Malay manuscripts in this country – and probably the oldest known illuminated Malay manuscript – is a copy of the Hikayat Seri Rama now held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, which was in the possession of Archbishop Laud in 1635. The Malay version originated not from the classical Ramayana of Valmiki, but from popular oral versions widely spread over southern India.

  2. Blake Smith writes about Tipu’s tiger automaton, stolen from India and displayed proudly at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The following paragraph is a prime example of the white washing of history still going on.
    But perhaps we are the ones preoccupied with it. The importance of Islam to Tipu’s reign continues to be debated, often viciously, in South Asian academia and popular culture. Certain Hindu fundamentalists and conservatives portray him as a Muslim bigot who does not deserve the reputation for anti-colonial nationalism he has been given in an influential strain of nationalist history-writing. Without a doubt, Tipu oppressed some native Christian and Hindu communities, which he suspected of collaborating with his British enemies. But ‘jihad’ is a poor, and politically dangerous, way to characterize his policies. He fought Muslim rulers like the Nizam of Hyderabad, and sought alliances with non-Muslim states such as France. He may have been ruthless, but he was hardly the archetypal Islamist war-monger of neo-con nightmares.

  3. Chaya Babu has a review of Gaiutra Bahadur’s book Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture which is about Bahadur’s great grandmother who left India in 1903 to the Carribean.
    This is in the preface, before a story of the women who knowingly or unwittingly became the nexus of a brutal system of indentured servitude, imperialism, and stringent patriarchy. Bahadur provides further context of what migration for such purposes did for Indians – stripping them of caste, community, companionship, and all other structures that formed the base of their lives on the subcontinent. With this, they were given the name “coolie,” defining them primarily by their collective status as menial workers, a marker of identity that evolved to an ethnic slur and stuck with their descendants.

  4. Maddy writes about the Palghat Achans and the events which prompted Hyder Ali’s intervention in the region.
    As it is stated in the grantha, the Pangi Achan (nephew of elayachan edam thampuran), Kelu achan of Pulikkel edam and a few of the important regional heads travelled to Coimbatore to meet the Sankara Raja who gave them known emissaries to accompany them to Srirangam (Mysore – Srirangapatanam) to meet the Dalawa there. From there they were redirected to meet Hyder Ali who was the Faujedar or commander in chief of the infantry at Dindigul, nearer to Palghat. Hyder then deputed his brother-in-law Muquadam Ali with his forces to Palghat. This resulted in a severe war with the Zamorin’s forces in Feb 1758 where the Mysore forces were victorious. Muqadam Ali’s forces withdrew after collecting their compensation by way of gold melted out of the ornaments worn by the Emoor bhagavathi (the tutelary deity of the Palghat Achans), as rakshabhogam (equivalent of 12,000 old Viraraya fanams). The Zamorin it is said (not in this grantha though, but in British records) apparently sued for peace by promising to pay 12,00,000 fanams as reparation.

The next carnival will be up on June 15th. Please send your nominations by e-mail to varnam.blog @gmail. Thanks Fëanor for his nominations.

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Cliven Bundy and James Henry Hammond

Recently, Cliven Bundy, an American rancher, pontificated these views after seeing a public housing project in Nevada.

They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.[CLIVEN BUNDY’S SLAVERY DELUSION]

The comment that Blacks would have been better off as slaves picking cotton stuck with me because, it was just few months back that I had  read a similar comment made by James Henry Hammond who a politician and planter from South Carolina who served as a United States Representative, the  Governor of South Carolina  and as a United States Senator in the mid-19th century. In Letter to an English Abolitionist written in 1845, he argued that slavery was more humane than wage labor. Quoting slave writings from Solomon Northrup, Harriet Jacobs, and Charles Ball, I had written essay refuting Hammond’s alternate universe. The very casual way in which Bundy suggests slavery as a alternative, even after all these, is quite shocking.

Over the past few months, I also wrote few other essays on American slavery, like From a Society with Slaves to a Slave Society, Understanding Thomas Jefferson, and Disputing the Jefferson Davis Theory. All these were part of the coursework required for the Coursera course from University of Pennsylvania titled, The History of the Slave South. For completing these essays and participating in the weekly discussions, I got a certificate as well.

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