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Tag Archives | Anthropology

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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Marxists, Missionaries and an Anthropologist

Marxist theory pervades all domains: There were some Malayali film critics who saw every movie using the class struggle lens; most of Indian history was written by Marxist historians. It seems American anthropology too is influenced by Marxist theories and when Napoleon A. Chagnon refuted it with empirical evidence, Catholic missionaries joined forces with the Marxists to discredit him.

A repeated theme in his book is the clash between his empirical findings and the ideology of his fellow anthropologists. The general bias in anthropological theory draws heavily from Marxism, Dr. Chagnon writes. His colleagues insisted that the Yanomamö were fighting over material possessions, whereas Dr. Chagnon believed the fights were about something much more basic — access to nubile young women.

In his view, evolution and sociobiology, not Marxist theory, held the best promise of understanding human societies. In this light, he writes, it made perfect sense that the struggle among the Yanomamö, and probably among all human societies at such a stage in their history, was for reproductive advantage.

During his years of working among the Yanomamö, Dr. Chagnon fell into cross purposes with the Salesians, the Catholic missionary group that was the major Western influence in the Yanomamö region. Instead of traveling by canoe and foot to the remote Yanomamö villages, the Salesians preferred to induce the Yanomami to settle near their mission sites, even though it exposed them to Western diseases to which they had little or no immunity, Dr. Chagnon writes. He also objected to the Salesians’ offering the Yanomamö guns, which tribe members used to kill one another as well as for hunting.

The Salesians and Dr. Chagnon’s academic enemies saw the chance to join forces against him when the writer Patrick Tierney published a book, “Darkness in El Dorado” (2000), accusing Dr. Chagnon and the well-known medical geneticist James V. Neel of having deliberately caused a measles epidemic among the Yanomamö in 1968.[An Anthropologist’s War Stories]

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The "Primitive" and the "Civilized"

On May 27th, 1830, a Scottish Missionary by the name of Alexander Duff reached India to complete the task Jean-Antoine Dubois, a French-Catholic missionary, could not. For Duff, Hinduism was irrational; he had to make Hindus see the irrationality and fill that spiritual vacuum with something which in his view was not irrational – Christianity. On Oct 12, 1836 Lord Macaulay wrote a letter to his father in which he mentioned the fourteen hundred boys in Hoogly who were learning English. He was sure that a Hindu who received English education would never remain faithful to his religion and some of them would embrace Christianity and if the British education plan was followed, there would not be a single idolater among the respected classes in Bengal.

Also in Macaulay’s opinion there was no point in perfecting the vernaculars, since there was nothing intelligent, but falsehood in them. In his Minute, he noted that he had no knowledge of Sanskrit or Arabic, but was convinced that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. On the other hand, whoever learned English had access to the vast intellectual wealth of the wisest nations of the earth and the literature available in English is valuable that the literature of all languages of the world together.

India never met Macaulay’s benchmark for European progress. In fact his lack of knowledge of Sanskrit did not stand in the way of making this judgment. He never saw the deep philosophy in the Upanishads or the greatness of Panini’s grammar or the astonishing development in mathematics. He never saw value in Indian culture; all he saw was racially and culturally inferior people who had to be saved.

The book I am reading right now, Breaking the Maya Code, talks about this “smug Victorian view” when it comes to other civilizations. According to Sir Edward Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan, all societies and cultures pass through various stages — savagery, barbarism — before being civilized. Even now there are cultures which are in “savage” and “barbaric” state and it becomes the responsibility of the civilized to bring them on the path of progress.

One man who banished this racist concept of primitive world and civilized world was the influential French  anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss,. His revolutionary idea was simple: there are no primitives. Each culture made great progress in areas which mattered to them. This would be invisible  in ethnocentric analysis or if you believe that the Innuit people are a rough draft of Adam and Eve. He observed that there was a structure in human culture, like structures in math and languages. There were social structures — based on class, profession — and cultural structures.

The accepted view held that primitive societies were intellectually unimaginative and temperamentally irrational, basing their approaches to life and religion on the satisfaction of urgent needs for food, clothing and shelter.

Mr. Lévi-Strauss rescued his subjects from this limited perspective. Beginning with the Caduveo and Bororo tribes in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil, where he did his first and primary fieldwork, he found among them a dogged quest not just to satisfy material needs but also to understand origins, a sophisticated logic that governed even the most bizarre myths, and an implicit sense of order and design, even among tribes who practiced ruthless warfare.[Claude Lévi-Strauss]

According to Lévi-Strauss, the Australians had an elaborate model of kinship, Africans had legal and philosophical system and Melanesians had a great form of art. The aborigines, considered primitive, used their imagination to create a wonderful world of myth, art and ritual. They had complex rules for marriage and their kinship can be analyzed using modern rules of mathematics.  The native Americans, for example, understood the complex relationship between man and nature.

One of his important works was “Mythologiques”

The final volume ends by suggesting that the logic of mythology is so powerful that myths almost have a life independent from the peoples who tell them. In his view, myths speak through the medium of humanity and become, in turn, the tools with which humanity comes to terms with the world’s greatest mystery: the possibility of not being, the burden of mortality.[Claude Lévi-Strauss]

Claude Lévi-Strauss died at the age of 100 on November 4th.

See Also: On Point with Tom Ashbrook

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