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Tag Archives | Indian History Carnival

Indian History Carnival – 28

The Indian History Carnival, published on the 15th of every month, is a collection of posts related to Indian history and archaeology.

  1. Why are there no Chinese fishing nets in Calicut — the place where Zheng He visited — while Cochin has them? CHF has a theory. Please read the comments for this post as well.
  2. A more plausible explanation has been offered by Deepa Leslie in her article at http://enchantingkerala.org/kerala-articles/chinese-nets.php According to her, it is the Portuguese Casado settlers from Macau who brought this form of fishing into Cochin. She explains further that the names of the various parts of the net currently in use are Portuguese in origin

  3. Fëanor writes about 16th century Manipur when texts in Meitei Mayek script were burned to make way for new Sanskrit texts.
  4. After Charai Rongba, his son Gareeb Niwaz fell under the influence of the Chaitanya school of Vaishnavism. He decided to no longer support the Meitei Mayek script, and – fearing that the old texts would undermine his efforts to establish Hinduism among the Manipuris, and quite probably encouraged by his Brahmin adviser Shantidas Adhikari – ordered the burning of documents written in it. Large numbers of histories and texts of the old faith were publicly set aflame. In view of the supposed prestige of the languages of the incoming new faith, Manipuri began to be written in the Bengali script, which along with Sanskrit, assumed greater importance in ritual matters.

  5. Inorite has the tale of the kingdom of Vadakkamkur in Kerala
  6. The fate of the dispossessed Rajahs of the Travancore region had always interested me and I could, at best, only find scattered sources that mentioned them in passing. I am still highly intrigued as to what happened to the Kayamkulam Rajah who was perhaps the fiercest and most difficult enemy of Travancore so much so that Marthanda Varma on his death bed instructed his successor that the enmity of the Kayamkulam Rajah was “never to be forgotten”.

  7. Between 1840 and 1870, a commodity that was imported to the Presidencies of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay was American Ice. This trade made one man — Frederic Tudor of Boston — a millionaire. Maddy writes about A Frozen Journey and varnam has a post on the The Forgotten American Ice Trade.
  8. The Oxford University Blog has an excerpt from the 1888 book The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook which gives practical advice to memsahibs in India.
  9. In regard to other supplies, the difficulty in procuring them depends entirely on your position. The district officials have none, while a mere globe-trotter may starve. It is merely a matter of coercion, for the peasant does not wish to sell, and will not sell, if he thinks it polite to refuse. This fact should never be forgotten by the mistress, for it is easy to understand how fearful a weapon for oppression that appalling necessity of camp life, the tâhseel chuprassi, or tâhseel office orderly, may become…

  10. Uber Desi has some photographs of coins used in pre-colonial and colonial India

If you find any posts related to Indian history published in the past one month, please send it to jk AT varnam DOT org or send a tweet to @varnam_blog. The next carnival will be up on May 15th.

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Indian History Carnival – 27

The Indian History Carnival, published on the 15th of every month, is a collection of posts related to Indian history and archaeology.

  1. Who is an Aryan? Giacomo Benedetti goes through the history of this word
  2. In fact, when the Europeans, in the nineteenth century, began to familiarize with the Sanskrit and Avestan traditions, they were in a colonialist and positivistic frame of mind, they were inclined to see all in terms of biological races, and of the superiority of the white race… Previously, ethnic, social and religious differences were more important, and the East was seen as the origin of civilization and wisdom (also the Christian religion came from Asia), but in the nineteenth century they saw everywhere the supremacy of the white Europeans, and they were induced to think that this was due to a racial, intrinsic superiority. Moreover, they had to justify somehow their dominion.

  3. A Greek play written before the second century CE in Egypt was set in Malabar and
    featured an ancient South Indian language – either Tulu or Kannada. Maddy has the story of Charition
  4. And strange isn’t it – we come across the Indian weakness for booze in the Geniza scrolls – dealing with the Bomma slave and now again in these papyri. If only the king of Malpe (Malpinak) or Alupa knew how to handle his liquor, we may choose to think, but then again, he did not, and so we have this precious piece of history. Other interesting facts are the usage of women as personal bodyguards (these days the Libyan dictator Gaddafi has such a set of Amazons guarding him) and the attachment the Yavana Devadasi forms with the moon goddess and her refusal to steal the ornaments or offerings made by her devotees, are interesting aspects of the story.

  5. In 1787 Charles Grant, who was the Commercial Resident of Malda, wrote a letter to one Mr. Wilberforce. This letter contained the word “Hindooism” –  the first ever known usage of this word. varnam has a post on Charles Grant.
  6. After taking a position as the Commercial Resident of Malda, Grant took an interest in the moral nature of Indians. He rejected the argument that Hindus were people in whom mild and gentle qualities dominated; he thought that they were morally depraved. He wanted to bring in social and economic reform and the way for that, not surprisingly, was to make people acquainted with the truth of Revelation and free them from the ‘false religion’.

  7. If you are interested in learning about the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a few podcasts are available and Anne has a list
  8. In a short a time, three podcast series have started paying attention to the revolt in India in 1857. What began with disconcerted Indian foot-soldiers in the British colonial army – hence the rebellion is also called a mutiny – extended into a broad revolt which eventually even got the Mogul Emperor involved. After the fighting and the massacres neither India nor Britain would be the same

  9. Worried about the Chinese military activity in Tibet, the Americans decided to install a surveillance device on the summit of Nanda Devi. Murphys law was involved and Fëanor has that story.
  10. The following year, the Indians returned to the mountain. To their horror, they found that a landslide had hidden the nuclear generator. A missive of masterly understatement found its way to the CIA (‘We may be experiencing a small operational problem with Project Blue Mountain’). The Americans returned in force to attempt to salvage the device.

  11. Recently Kim Plofker published a book called Mathematics in India based on books from the Vedic period to the 18th century. Hari has the book on his desk
  12. There is the use of Pythagoras’ famous theorem in the construction of pillars, some centuries before the Greek philosopher is said to have postulated it in fifth century BC; Pāṇini’s rules of Sanskrit grammar and recursion, which “without exaggeration…anticipated the basic ideas of modern computer science”; and Pingala, whose study of Sanskrit verses led to the binary notation and the development of Pascal’s famous triangle, useful in the calculation of binomial coefficients (which, coincidentally, is what I am teaching now); and Madhava of Sangamagramma (circa 14th century), the genius of the Kerala School, who contributed along with others, to “the discoveries of the power series expansions of arctangent, sine, and cosine” (a text on this in Malayalam has survived).

If you find any posts related to Indian history published in the past one month, please send it to jk AT varnam DOT org or send a tweet to @varnam_blog. The next carnival will be up on April 15th.

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Who all had horses?

After reading Wendy Doniger’s new book,The Hindus : An Alternative History, Lekhni investigated if Aryans were cattle thieves. In her post she mentioned the symbolism behind the conversation between Sarama and the Panis who stole cattle. This story is important, not just for the issue of cattle stealing, but also for finding out if Aryans really did bring horses to India.

According to the Marxist historian D. D. Kosambi, “the hymn says nothing about stolen cattle, but is a direct, blunt demand for tribute in cattle, which the PaNis scornfully reject. They are then warned of dire consequences.” But it was not just cattle which the PaNis had; they had horses too. Guess who else had horses? The Dasyus whom the Aryans defeated when they invaded/migrated to India

For instance, Indra-Soma, by means of the truth (eva satyam), shatters the stable where Dasyus were holding “horses and cows” (ashvyam goh).65 In another hymn, Indra’s human helpers find the Pani’s “horses and cattle”: “The Angirasas gained the whole enjoyment of the Pani, its herds of the cows and the horses.”

The most striking passage is from the famous dialogue between the divine hound Sarama, Indra’s intransigent emissary, and the Panis, after she has discovered their faraway den, where they jealously hoard their “treasures.” Sarama boldly declares Indra’s intention to seize these treasures, but the Panis are unimpressed and threaten to fight back; they taunt her: “O Sarama, see the treasure deep in the mountain, it is full of cows and horses and treasures (gobhir ashvebhir vasubhir nyrsah). The Panis guard it watchfully. You have come in vain to a rich dwelling.”

Every verse makes it clear that all these treasures, horses included, belong to the Panis; at no point does Sarama complain that these are stolen goods: “I come in search of your great treasures,” she declares at first, and the Panis would not be insolent enough to taunt her with goods seized from the Aryans; yet Sarama considers that Indra is fully entitled to them. [The Horse and the Aryan Debate1]

Even though it is not mentioned that the Panis stole the cows and horses, Doniger’s translation makes that statement. Imagine the horse riding Aryans come thundering down the Khyber pass to see the natives treating cattle and horses as treasure. 

In fact one theory explains this from a migrationist point of view. According to the two wave theory  two Indo-Aryan groups — the Dasas and Panis — arrived around 2100 B.C.E from the steppes via Central Asia bringing horses with them.  These folks who came in 2100 B.C.E were not the composers of the Veda; they came in a second wave, a couple of centuries later[2][3]. Thus the battle between Aryans, Dasas and Panis were actually battles between earlier migrants and the new ones. There is only one problem though: a genetic study published last month from Stanford University found no evidence of migration from the steppes since 7000 years back.

But does this ashva mean the physical horse — the Equus Caballus — or something else? The Rg Veda has quite a few references to the horse which means that if taken literally, we should see horse bones all over North-West India. But we don’t. That is because the horse was a rare animal then as it is now.

So how should one read the text? Sri Aurobindo said you need proper background:

in his time, he said that these [scholars] lacked the background necessary to properly read this largely spiritual literature [Vedas]. Aurobindo spoke on the authority of the native Indian tradition, which prescribes the prerequisites to understand and interpret these texts. In general, anybody who wants to write any commentary or similar work, especially on the Vedas should at the minimum know these Vedangas (literally, the limbs of the Vedas) apart from knowing the Vedas themselves:[Wendy Doniger is a Syndrome]

As far back as 1912, Sri Aurobindo had suggested that ashva would have meant strength or speed before it was named for the horse.

The cow and horse, go and ashva, are constantly associated. Usha, the Dawn, is described as gomati ashvavati; Dawn gives to the sacrificer horses and cows. As applied to the physical dawn gomati means accompanied by or bringing the rays of light and is an image of the dawn of illumination in the human mind. Therefore ashvavati also cannot refer merely to the physical steed; it must have a psychological significance as well. A study of the Vedic horse led me to the conclusion that go and ashva represent the two companion ideas of Light and Energy, Consciousness and Force….[The Horse and the Aryan Debate1]


For the ritualist the word go means simply a physical cow and nothing else, just as its companion word, ashva, means simply a physical horse…. When the Rishi prays to the Dawn, gomad viravad dhehi ratnam uso ashvavat, the ritualistic commentator sees in the invocation only an entreaty for “pleasant wealth to which are attached cows, men (or sons) and horses”. If on the other hand these words are symbolic, the sense will run, “Confirm in us a state of bliss full of light, of conquering energy and of force of vitality.”[The Horse and the Aryan Debate1]

With this symbolism, if we go back to the text which mentions that Dasyus and Panis it can be interpreted  that demons had light and power which they kept for themselves, but it was the duty of rishis to recover it and establish cosmic order. And we are looking for imaginary horses.


  1. Michel Danino, The Horse and the Aryan Debate, Journal of Indian History and Culture September 2006, no. 13: 33-59. 
  2. Asko Parpola, The Horse and the Language of the Indus Civilization,in The Aryan Debate edited by Thomas R. Trautmann (Oxford University Press, USA), 234-236.
  3. Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004).
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Indian History Carnival – 22

The Indian History Carnival, published on the 15th of every month, is a collection of posts related to Indian history and archaeology.

  1. In February 2009, a conference was held in Los Angeles titled, “The Sindhu-Sarasvati Valley Civilization: A Reappraisal“. This title was the cause of grief in some circles due to the association of Sarasvati with the Harappan civilization. Few of those lectures have been posted in their blog
  2. Did Islam spread in India through violence? Were Hindu kings more violent than Islamic conquerers? Sandeep takes a look
  3. I hate to disappoint him but this particular morsel of history dates farther back than Ghaznis and Ghoris. As early as CE 664, Abdur Rahman, an Arab invader took Kabul (then part of India). However, it took at least two centuries for Mohammad Bin Qasiman Arab againto successfully occupy parts of Sindh around CE 711-712. Subuktgin and his prodigious son, Mohammad of Ghazni, and then Mohammad Ghori were all Turks. I leave it to the readers intelligence to deduce from this piece of historical evidence that Qasim, Subuktigin, and the two Mohammads were merchants.

  4. Based on Prithviraj Vijay, a 12th century account of the Kingdom of Ajmer, Airavat writes about the political and militrary details.
  5. The pages following this eyewitness account are missing but this seems to have occurred in 1178 when Muhammad Ghori invaded Gujarat, sacking Nadol and Kiradu on the way. The manuscript continues, “When these fiends in the shape of men took possession of Nadol, the warriors of Prithviraja took up their bows and the emperor became angry and resolved to lay Ghori’s glory to dust.”

  6. While Hampi is a well known destination, Pattadakkal which is about 90 miles is masked by Hampi’s shadow, says Arundhati.
  7. After all, was Pattadakkal not considered so auspicious that Chalukya kings made it a point to be crowned on its soil? Did its literature not include some of the earliest work in the nascent Kannada language? And did not its architecture set the standard for future temple building? Even Vijayanagar for all its confidence could not resist incorporating Chalukya architectural styles.

  8. Visiting Mahabalipuram after many decades, Kamini writes about the journey, how this place captured Western imagination and different versions of Arjuna’s penance.
  9. Marco Polo is said to have visited Santhome (now in modern-day Madras) where he was regaled with tales of the lost temples of Mahabalipuram. His descriptions found their way, in part, to the Catalan Atlas of 1375. The Catalan Atlas is one of the most important atlases of the medieval era, and was put together by a Catalan Jew (from Spain) called Abraham Cresques. It shows India in peninsular form, and Mahabalipuram is mentioned there as “Setemelti”, which is assumed to be an erroneous version of “Sette Templi” – or seven temples.

  10. Another place which Marco Polo visited was Tanjavur, the Chola capital. Hari was there recently and writes about how Dravidian politics has caused a surge in faith.
  11. Being pious and following certain customs are ways of projecting one’s elevated caste status. This has resulted in a resurgence of local gods and goddesses — Adi Parasakthi for example. And feature stories in Tamil weeklies are often about film stars and prominent personages visiting their villages to worship their family deities.

  12. Arby explores the similarities between Roman religion and Hinduism
  13. It is more likely that the over the last three millennia, Hindutva evolved across the Indian subcontinent integrating itself with local beliefs, much like the Roman religion as mentioned earlier. However, without a central point of authority, the evolution has been chaotic and inconsistent. Also, the evolution was slow and time consuming. But in the end, Hindutva is a religion similar in character to the Roman one, with respect to religious belief, though not theology.

f you find any posts related to Indian history published in the past one month, please send it to jk AT varnam DOT org. Please send me links which are similar to the ones posted, in terms of content.The next carnival will be up on Nov 15th.

See Also: Previous Carnivals

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Indian History Carnival – 21

The Indian History Carnival, published on the 15th of every month, is a collection of posts related to Indian history and archaeology.

  1. Sukumar has a hypothesis about the Indus valley women: unmarried women wore bangles only in one arm, whereas married women wore bangles in both arms. He wants help with this symbology associated with bangles and marital status.
  2. R Nandakumar writes about this visit to the Harappan site of Lothal.
  3. That of course, leaves out the famous ‘dock’, a very big and very neat rectangular depression, now looking more like a vast, shallow tank. If it really was a ship-building place/port, it would have held several dozens of vessels the size of modern mechanized fishing boats.

  4. Manish Khamesra visited the Chittaurgarh Fort and tells us the history behind it.
  5. Sometimes I wonder who among the rulers of Mewar, was most powerful. Was it Maharana Pratap? We all are aware of his defiant resistance to Akbar. Or, was it Maharana Sanga or Sangram Singh? He was once very close to rule Delhi. It was his miscalculation that Babur, being a foreigner, will leave Delhi after plundering and looting it, that cost him the throne of Delhi. Recently, I read in detail about Maharana Kumbhakaran or Kumbha, and I was forced to include his name also in this list.

  6. Murali Ramavarma has the story of Sankaranatha Jyotsar, who served as the the chief astrologer and spiritual advisor to Maharajah Ranjit Singh:
  7. Under continuous persuasion of Ranjit Singh, Sankaranatha returned to his court in 1835 and served him till his death in 1839. Though he continued to serve the disintegrating and tragedy-struck Sikh empire under Kharak Singh and Sher Singh, he was not comfortable and chose to return to the cooler shores of the south in 1844.

  8. Till 1890, the British were respected in the North-East. Feanor, explains how that changed.
  9. The most popular man in Manipur ordered his troops to fire upon the British, who then withdrew to the Residency. The Senapati’s troops attacked the Residency, whereupon Quinton was forced to sue for peace. He, Grimwood and three military officers went to the palace to negotiate. By now, the atmosphere was vitiated, and an angry soldier mortally wounded Grimwood. Realising that if they were to be hanged for a penny, they might as well hang for a pound, the Manipuris beheaded Quinton, attacked the Gurkhas, and chased all the British out of the kingdom.

  10. Since Jinnah, Nehru, the British and partition are hot topics, 2ndlook examines three scenarios— a federal India, two nations, many nations — that could have happened in 1947.

f you find any posts related to Indian history published in the past one month, please send it to jk AT varnam DOT org. Please send me links which are similar to the ones posted, in terms of content.The next carnival will be up on Oct 15th.

See Also: Previous Carnivals

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